IFC Asia 2020

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IFC Asia 2020

Announcement from RA Trustees on planning and timing of the next IFC Asia


Dear IFC Community Members across Asia and around the world,

We are writing with important news about planning that is underway for the next IFC-Asia, and to notify you of our decision to postpone the event for 2019. Though the decision may be disappointing for all of us, it actually reflects a deep strategic commitment to the event and the future of Resource Alliance in the region.

To begin, we cannot be more pleased with the feedback we have received from IFC Asia, and the impact it is having for social impact organisations across the region. It is clear the “IFC Experience” is every bit as valuable for people around the world, and the ecosystem we were seeking to build is thriving—as ideas and insights are being “cross-pollinated” from West to East and East to West, North to South and South to North!

In fact, the past two IFC Asia events have been so successful we have decided to invest in putting the financial and human resources in place to ensure it can become a lasting part of Asia’s social impact landscape.

Over the past two years, Resource Alliance made a large strategic investment to prove the viability of an Asia-based conference. Now that the events are an unqualified success, we have begun working with strategic funders, transformative partners, academic institutions, and volunteer organisations to develop the regional infrastructure that will guarantee IFC Asia has the same 40-year legacy of our flagship event in Holland.

This work—along with the fact that we are conducting an analysis of optimal timing for such a large conference—means our next IFC Asia will occur in calendar year 2020. 

That said, 2019 promises to be the most active year in Asia in Resource Alliance history, as we are planning a series of smaller events across the region. Please pay close attention to social media and our email correspondence to learn about upcoming Pop-ups, Lightning Talks, and Leadership Forums in your area, and, as always, please contact my colleague, Ruby Chadwick (Ruby@resource-alliance.org), to share your thoughts, offer advice, and recommend resources to help us develop our 2019 Asia events and to ensure IFC Asia 2020 will be the best ever!


With Respect and Gratitude,


Board of Directors

Resource Alliance

IFC Asia 2018 bursary recipients

5 Things You Won’t Miss When You Sign Up for IFC Holland 2018

The International Fundraising Congress (IFC) conferences are world-renowned networking and educational opportunities where delegates and speakers come together to share their industry knowledge and expertise.

So what are the most exciting and unmissable aspects of attending an IFC event?? Here are the Top 5 things you won’t miss if you sign up for IFC Holland 2018:

1. Speakers from more than 30 countries

We’re thrilled to announce the lineup of IFC Holland 2018! Our speakers are influential industry leaders that will be bringing you their unique and diverse perspectives from 30 countries and 6 continents.

EUROPE: Lena Vizy, (Netherlands) Senior Fundraiser, Amnesty International

Fun Fact – Lena joined the fundraising team at Amnesty in 2013. Previously she worked as a Marketer for the National Opera and Ballet of the Netherlands and The Dutch Opera.

AFRICA: Bart Weetjens, (Tanzania,) Co-Lead, The Wellbeing Project

Fun Fact – Bart initiated the use of trained giant African pouched rats (HeroRATS) as an alternative and sustainable landmine detector, in response to the global landmine challenge.

SOUTH AMERICA: Marcelo Iniarra, (Argentina,) Founder/Creative Consultant MarceloIniarra.com

Fun Fact – Marcelo was one of the global pioneers of digital mobilisation in the social sector, leading the design and implementation of cyberactivism and fundraising at Greenpeace International.

NORTH AMERICA: Caroline Riseboro, (Canada,) President & CEO, Plan International

Fun Fact – In 2017, Caroline was named Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the trailblazer category and she is credited with launching campaigns that have engaged Canadians on some of the world’s toughest issues.

ASIA: Khaled Khalifa, (Saudi Arabia,) Regional Representative GCC, UNHCR

Fun Fact – Khaled has worked with major international organizations in countries including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Libya, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, and KSA

AUSTRALIA: Nicola Norris, (Australia,) Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Fun Fact – Nicola has dedicated her career to increasing fundraising revenue for several NGOs including Greenpeace, the Heart Foundation and Amnesty International.

2. More than 100 education opportunities

At IFC Holland, you will have your choice of deep-dive Masterclasses, interactive Workshops, inspiring Plenaries, engaging Resource Cafe sessions, and Big Room lectures.

MASTERCLASSES: A 6 ½ hour session over 2 days

Your expert speaker will guide you through powerful learnings and interactive conversations, and you’ll come away with actionable solutions.

WORKSHOPS: Hands on Learnings

You’ll gain a wealth of practical, strategic learnings boiled down into 90-minute helpings served up by some of the most focused practitioners in the social impact sector.

THE RESOURCE CAFE: Informal, fluid, conversational
The more intimate setting and less structured agendas are well suited to a lively Q&A format and an overall feeling of ‘Together We Can’ among everyone in the room.

BIG ROOM: Lectures that inspire conversation
It’s all about The Big Picture: Bigger-than-life speakers, in front of a big crowd on a big stage in a big room, talking about The Big Issues.

PLENARIES: Keynote sessions to effect change

Our opening and closing plenary sessions are specially created for IFC Holland. They are designed to inspire, to educate, and to challenge you to stretch your heart and mind, your ambition and your self-belief.

3. Networking, networking, networking

With over 1000 delegates and over 100 speakers, at IFC Holland, you’ll be gaining up-close-and-personal access to the leading changemakers of the social impact sector. Strike up a conversation about journey mapping over coffee. Learn about digital innovations from a new friend at a cocktail reception. Trade stories about rethinking fundraising strategy while dancing at the IFC Holland Gala.

And for more structured networking opportunities, don’t miss Lunch & Learns, Power Hours, and Special Social Sessions like yoga and wellness activities.

And don’t forget to “be social!” Connect with your new friends and colleagues on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook and be sure to tag #IFCHolland in your posts!

4. A chance to learn more about The Resource Alliance

The Resource Alliance was founded in 1981 as a support network to keep delegates connected and engaged between conferences. Today’s Resource Alliance still serves as a bridge from IFC to IFC, but its role and reach have expanded to include myriad education and leadership training opportunities, and a mission to foster and support collaboration within the global social impact sector.

At IFC Holland, you’ll have the chance to meet our team, learn about our global IFC events and impacts, and to discover how you can become an active member of our community. Don’t be shy when you see one of us! We’d like nothing more than to tell you more about our Mission!


You’ll hear new stories, new perspectives, enjoy specially curated sessions that you won’t see anywhere else, including our opening and closing keynotes, and you’ll discover that you are part of an amazing global movement for change.

Opening Plenary: Together We Can

Expect music. Expect powerful personal stories. Expect a call for radical collaboration. Expect to be challenged by:

  • Mesmerizing Argentinian pianist Sergio Feferovich – a musician with a message
  • Asha Curran, one of the minds behind the phenomenon that is #GivingTuesday, exploring what it looks like to put New Power principles into action
  • DSIL Global CEO Katy Grennier with a profound and personal call for our work to be driven by a radical approach to inclusion and problem solving
  • This specially created plenary will be hosted by the co-founder of Socialgiver.com, Aliza Napartivaumnuay

Closing plenary: I am a little bird and I will fly into the sky

How do you get from one of the darkest places imaginable, to a place of empowerment, even joy?

Listen to this closing plenary from Esther Dingemans, Director, The Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, and you will begin to understand how such an extraordinary journey can be possible.

There’s no end to the chances and connections you won’t make if you don’t join us from 16-19 October, so register today for IFC Holland!

And thanks to our corporate travel partnership with Dutch airline KLM, they are kindly offering discounted flights to and from Amsterdam Schiphol for IFC delegates. When you book your tickets through us, you’ll be eligible to receive 15% off your KLM flights to IFC between 10-24 October 2018. That means you can schedule a few days before or after the conference to explore the beautiful canals, historic architecture, and exciting cultural attractions of Amsterdam!

Reasons Why Early Birds Win at IFC 2018

The International Fundraising Congress (IFC) brings together a thousand changemakers, innovators, and thought leaders from over 60 countries to address the biggest challenges facing our world today. From 16-19 October, you’ll work together to create plans and calls to actions. You’ll meet your heroes, share your stories, and leave with a renewed sense of community and hope.

At IFC Holland 2018: Together We Can, we will be addressing the hottest topics and most relevant trends in the industry. And believe us, you don’t want to miss out on any of the action! When you register early for IFC Holland, you’ll get first dibs on deep-dive Masterclasses, on-site 4 star accommodation, and ticket options that match your goals and your budget.

Here are the Top Reasons Early Birds Win at IFC Holland 2018

You’ll secure the Masterclass of your choice!

IFC Masterclasses are deep-dive sessions led by industry leaders covering today’s most relevant topics in learning tracks like Leadership, Innovation, Strategy, Communications, and of course Fundraising. Masterclasses are 6 ½ hour sessions held over two days. With a maximum of 40 participants each, the sessions are designed to be interactive and intensive, guaranteeing that you’ll come away with practical and strategic learnings.

Whether you’re interested in learning about Journey Mapping or Digital Fundraising, Building Corporate Sponsorships or improving your #DonorLove, you’ll need to register for your session in advance to secure attendance.

You’ll be eligible for discounted KLM airfare to Holland!

Thanks to our corporate travel partnership with Dutch airline KLM, they are kindly offering discounted flights to and from Amsterdam Schiphol for IFC delegates. When you book your tickets through us, you’ll be eligible to receive 15% off your KLM flights to IFC between 10-24 October 2018. There are only a limited number of discounted tickets available, and you must be able to provide proof of your IFC Holland 2018 registration.

You’ll be able to reserve 4 star on-site accommodation!

IFC Holland is held at the four star conference centre NH Leeuwenhorst Hotel, approximately 30-40 minutes away from Amsterdam City Centre and from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The on-site rooms in the conference centre are reserved for delegates who have booked the Masterclass Programme only and are on a first-come, first-served basis. There are only a limited number of onsite rooms available at at NH Leeuwenhorst Hotel, so late registrants will have to stay off-site at one of our satellite hotels, accessible by shuttle bus service

You’ll be able to choose a ticket type to suit your goals & budget!

IFC Holland offers a variety of ticket tiers that vary by conference access level and accommodation type (Economy – Deluxe:)

  • If you book our IFC programme that includes an intensive Masterclass with accommodation, the cost includes 3 nights’ accommodation with breakfast, 4 lunches (Tuesday to Friday), 3 evening meals including entry into our Gala night, tea & coffee and of course attendance to our workshops and big room sessions.
  • If you book our standard IFC programme (not including access to our Masterclasses) with accommodation, the cost includes 2 nights’ accommodation with breakfast, 3 lunches (Wednesday to Friday), 2 evening meals including entry into our Gala night, tea & coffee and attendance at to our workshops and big room sessions.

When you book ahead, you can choose the package that’s right for you.

IFC Holland is an investment in you, your organisation, your cause, and the change you want to see and create in the world! When you register for IFC Holland early, you’ll have the opportunity to make the absolute most out of your experience.

Don’t let #FOMO get you down! Book your ticket today and together we can have the best and most impactful #IFCHolland experience yet!


5 Burning Questions IFC Holland 2018 Will Answer

The International Fundraising Congress (IFC) brings together 1000s of changemakers, innovators, and thought leaders from over 60 countries to address the biggest challenges facing our world today. For four days in October, we work together to create plans and calls to actions. We meet our heroes, share our stories, and leave with a renewed sense of community and hope.

At IFC Holland: Together We Can, we will also be addressing the hottest topics and most relevant trends in the industry. Through deep-dive Masterclasses, interactive Workshops, inspiring Plenaries, and even over coffee, industry experts will present invaluable insights from both their successes and their failures in sectors ranging from Fundraising and Philanthropy to Leadership and Communications and Digital Innovations.

Here are the 5 Burning Questions IFC 2018 Will Answer for the Social Impact Sector:

1. What is “people-powered change” and why should I care?

If you want to learn more about the latest advocacy and campaigning methodologies that can engage millions and inspire them to act, don’t miss “Creating people-powered change: campaigning theories, strategies and tactics to engage and mobilise people to action,

Learning Outcomes:

  • How to develop public mobilisation campaign strategies that engage supporters and motivate them to take meaningful action
  • How to leverage culture to develop stories that inspire supporters
  • How to design outreach strategies and tactics to recruit new supporters and reach existing ones effectively

This engaging Masterclass is taught by Michael Silberman, Senior Digital Campaigns Strategist, Mobilisation Lab and Gautam Raju, Campaign Director, Purpose.

2. Who are the new philanthropists – and how do I reach them?

The exponential growth of new foundations and new money across the globe means that we need to create new ways of reaching these diverse and evolving sectors. “New Foundations, New Money: Getting into the Minds of Today’s Philanthropists” will be your guide to finding innovative solutions.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand the size, scope and trends of the new wave of foundations in Europe and Asia
  • Understand the relevance and importance of social enterprise in new foundation finance
  • Understand the role of advisors, including the banks, in developing relationships in this segment

This interactive Masterclass is taught by Christopher Carnie, Founder and Director, Factary and Rafia Qureshi, Executive Director, The Womanity Foundation.

3. How do I make my messaging stick?

What are the secrets to messaging in a world where technologies are constantly evolving? How does successful messaging really connect, engage, and push people to act? Find out how during “Sticky Marketing Troubleshooting Session – Interactive Resource Cafe Session.”

Learning Outcomes:

  • Move beyond theory to viable marketing and communications solutions
  • Gain a strategic understanding of the new rules of engaging with stakeholders, volunteers and donors
  • Address YOUR questions and challenges and bring home a plan of action for creating impactful messaging

This personalized session is taught by Grant Leboff, CEO, Sticky Marketing Club Kyla Shawyer, CEO, The Resource Alliance.

4. 500,000 new supporters from Facebook? Really?

Are you ready for a social media success story that also comes with step-by-step guidance to achieve your own scalable digital transformation? Don’t miss “500k New Supporters From Facebook. Who Said Digital Isn’t Scalable?

Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand how to SCALE digital using Facebook and an acquisition funnel.
  • Learn the key tactics for boosting online-only conversion to reduce the impact on tele-marketing
  • Understand the key organisational challenges and opportunities of moving to a digital lead generation and conversion programme

This active Workshop is taught by Nick Burne, Founder CEO, RAISETHRU and Danni Adam, Senior Direct Marketing Executive, Greenpeace.

5. Are we ready to #ShiftThePower?

We can all agree that it’s about time for open and frank conversations about our industry. “It’s time to talk about power and grassroots fundraising. Are we ready to #ShiftThePower?” will address why and how we fundraise in non-traditional countries and the impact we have — for good or for bad.

Learning Outcomes:

  • A reflection and discussion around power and values in our work, and whether our practices and tools support or undermine them
  • An appreciation of fundraising / local resource mobilization as a core development strategy
  • An introduction to the #ShiftThePower movement

This debate-style Resource Cafe Session is taught by Corine Aartman, Consultant/Trainer, Wilde Ganzen Foundation and Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director, Global Fund for Community Foundations.

Join us this year from 16-18 October to boldly answer the burning questions of our time. Together We Can share our knowledge and break down walls!



5 Things You’ll Learn from IFC Holland 2018

With theme of “Together We Can,” this year’s International Fundraising Congress (IFC) will offer opportunities for fundraisers, innovators, changemakers, and game changers to network and share ideas. But above all, you will be able to put your heads and heart together to collaboratively overcome the biggest challenges we face in the social impact sector today.

Through deep-dive Masterclasses, interactive Workshops, inspiring Plenaries, and even over coffee, industry experts will present invaluable insights from both their successes and their failures in sectors ranging from Fundraising and Philanthropy to Leadership and Communications and Digital Innovations.

There is no end to the possibilities of what you will take away from ”Together We Can,” but we wanted to share our hotlist of the Top 5 Things You’ll Learn from IFC Holland 2018:

1. Blockchain Technology and You

“Blockchain” is one of the newest buzzwords to hit the beat this year. But what does this tech trend have to do with your organization, and how can you harness it’s potential? During the “Innovation in Fundraising: The Blockchain” Workshop, Duncan Cook, CEO, 3 Sided Cube, will breakdown blockchain opportunities for fundraisers, and examine, “how it could change the way charities work in the future.”

Together we can… use tech for good to make the world a better place!

2. The Science Behind Support

Have you ever wondered what exactly makes some people more generous than others? The innovative Big Room Session “The Neuroscience of Philanthropy: A Fundraisers’ Guide to How Supporter Brains Work” will address the science behind giving. You’ll learn surprising facts about the way we think and make decisions, and how to improve your communications from Bernard Ross, Director, The Management Centre (=mc), Meredith Niles, Executive Director of Fundraising & Engagement, Marie Curie UK, Omar Mahmoud, Chief of Market Knowledge, UNICEF, Geoffrey Peters, CEO, Moore DM Group.

Together we can… use our brains for social good!

3.  Journey Mapping for the Win

Understanding the “donor experience” is a critical step to engaging long-term sustainable giving. Through the process of Journey Mapping, you will learn about the who, what, when, where, and how’s of what motivates your donors. With this knowledge, you will discover how, “to transform how you view, and support, your donors,” through the Masterclass, “Journey Mapping: Empathize with your donors so they can empathize with your cause. Learn to map your donors’ journeys to better understand and meet their needs, and your own.” Speakers include Michael Johnston, President and Founder, hjc, Diana Ruano Ortiz, Global Donor Development Manager, UNHCR, and Brian Walsh, Principal, Structured Empathy.

Together we can… transform our donor relationships!

4. Putting Digital First in Your Integrated Campaign

Has your organization been victim to the war between fundraising, communications and campaigns? In reality, these aspects of your foundation must be working together to achieve your goals. In the Workshop “Radical future: How digital-first campaigning organisations are changing fundraising forever,” you’ll discover how to integrate your strategies to focus on the infinite potential of digital. You’ll learn from real-world success models from Jon Lloyd, Advocacy Campaigns Manager, Mozilla and Anne Isakowitsch, Senior Campaigner, SumOfUs.org and Co-Founder, Campaign Bootcamp Germany.

Together we can… make radical change possible through digital!

5. Improve your Corporate Fundraising Game

Do you feel like you simply cannot compete with Big Brands when it comes to acquiring corporate partnerships? You are not alone! Believe it or not, there are ways for organisations of all sizes to successfully compete in the corporate fundraising game. The making of a modern corporate fundraiser: How to win breakthrough corporate partnerships and develop your own personal influence” will give you the tools and the confidence to “compete and win against bigger names and bigger budgets.” Workshop hosted by Adam Heuman, Director of Engagement, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and Helena Sharpstone, Director/Co-owner, Sharpstone Skinner.

Together we can… gain the confidence to achieve our fundraising goals!

Whatever challenges or goals you face, at IFC Holland 2018, you will meet like-minded peers and mentors to help you on your fundraising journey. Whether you’re a fundraiser newbie or an established industry thought leader, you’ll leave IFC with a renewed sense of community and the connections you’ll need to achieve your mission.


Our Top 5 Learnings from IFC Holland 2017

In October 2017, the international fundraising and social impact community gathered together for 4 days outside Amsterdam to spark conversations that would collectively change the course of the fundraising world. IFC Holland 2017: A New Conversation was attended by over 1000 delegates from 60 countries, eager to share their social impact knowledge and experience with each other, because it is only by working together that we can overcome the challenges that face our world.

Through deep-dive Masterclasses, interactive Workshops, inspiring Plenaries, and even over coffee, industry experts presented invaluable insights from both their successes and their failures in sectors ranging from Fundraising and Philanthropy to Leadership and Communications and Digital Innovations.

While what we learned from the conference could certainly fill a book, our Top 5 Learnings from IFC Holland 2017 were:

1 . Rethinking the Value of Volunteers

Delegates were urged to specifically rethink their attitudes towards volunteers as not just “free labor,” but instead as key team players. Volunteers are the backbone of our industry. Without them, we would not be able to effect the change our organisations are striving to achieve. IFC Holland taught us that by empowering our volunteer networks to be more active and engaged with staff, together we can achieve our missions!

2. Showing Some Donor Love

“Donor Fatigue” is plaguing the sector. The conundrum is that the more desperately we try to reach our donors for support, the less likely they are to give. Speakers at IFC Holland 2017 challenged us to rethink how we engage with our donor base by deepening these relationships. This can be achieved by opening the lines of communication, encouraging collaborations, and generally showing our donors some much needed LOVE!

3. Overcoming Barriers to New Innovations

In our digitally driven world, innovation is king. In the nonprofit world, “the Bottom Line” is what takes precedence, often leaving many small to mid-sized organizations vulnerable to being left behind because of bandwidth, finances, and fear of failure. IFC 2017 sessions focused on giving us the tools to recognize and overcome barriers to innovation, specifically how to operate in a climate that encourages risk and allows for failure, thus creating outcomes the might never have otherwise realized.

4. Marketing to Millennials

The future of fundraising is the Millennial Market – but how do we reach this digitally-obsessed, short-attention-spanned market that demands transparency, results, and above all “realness?” IFC 2017 delegates learned how young people can be cultivated from “awareness to activism to giving.” This youth demographic requires new ways of thinking, non-conventional outreach, and revolutionary campaigning, long before they even have the capacity to give. One thing is for sure: Millenials are definitely worth the investment from our industry.

5. Beyond Fundraising

One of the most common themes running through IFC Holland 2017 was that social impact depends on more than just fundraising. For sustainable growth and long-term success, we must begin to explore innovative financing and partnership opportunities. Because of the temperamental nature of fundraising, our very survival depends upon being open to new ideas – even including sharing our success secrets with each other… which is exactly what IFC is all about!

After all the sessions, networking opportunities, and plenaries, we could all agree that conversation and collaboration are vitally necessary to invigorate and sustain our social impact work. Building on the learnings of 2017, this year’s IFC will focus on the theme of “Together We Can.” We hope that you can join the conversation from 16-18 October, 2018 in Holland where together we can change the world!

Thinking of investing in segmentation? Be careful of these common and costly mistakes

Fundraising has never been easy. But it’s never been this hard. So, in an effort to fix the acquisition and retention problem the sectors looking for new/better ways to profile and segment prospects and supporters. But (with a handful of exceptions that I’ll share in the next post) no one’s been successful.

The mindset is 100% correct, but the methodology isn’t. So, it’s worth looking at where so much profiling and segmentation goes wrong.

Mistake #1
The first mis-step is usually some kind of supporter survey and/or focus group. Behavioural science has repeatedly shown people can’t reliably answer these questions, yet for some reason we keep asking them.

It’s not that people purposefully lie, but because they fail to predict their future behaviour. Or because the nature of the question is such that it can’t be answered in a reliable way (e.g. “We carry out a range of activities to help [insert cause here], which would you like to hear more about”, “What reasons might you stop supporting a charity”, “Will you vote for Brexit/Trump etc.”).

We want these answers, but we’ll never get them with these questions.

Mistake #2
There is always some set of variables used to create segments. Either winging it or a statistical grouping method (the latter leads to a false sense of confidence). The question that really matters is what variables get used. Why?

Whatever variables are used to create segments you will, by definition, see differences on those exact same variables when profiling. This is circular and tautological. But it is important because profiling of the segments, on the very variables used to create the segments, is what is used to feel confident about the segments being different.

If you have more data on your CRM, and you add it to your segments, you will see even more differences. The more data you use to describe, the more different they’ll look. These differences are as inevitable as they are irrelevant.

Mistake #3
When giving behavior variables are used, in whole or part, to create segments you’ve reduced your segmentation into a selection tool (in other words it describes what they did, not why they did/will do it). Why?

Because giving behavior is being used to explain giving behavior! It is all effect, zero cause.

This is no different than regular RFV selection since the behavior part drowns out any other variables. But those other variables (e.g. attitudes about your cause and wanting to help those in need) will make it look like it is something different, something tied to motivation, etc. It isn’t.

Mistake #4
The reason behavior variables get thrown into the mix is that attitudinal segmentation, more often than not, shows little bearing on behaviors. Why?

Because there was no theoretical basis for the attitudes used to create the segments. It just intuitively feels right to ask a series of global questions on how people feel (e.g. about your cause and supporting charities etc.) and then grouping based on the responses.

When you do this you merely wind up finding a number of segments with varying degrees of feeling on the battery of statements. Which is neither interesting or useful.

Mistake #5
When the descriptive profiling is done on these attitude-only segments there is often little behavior difference. So, some of those behaviors are thrown into the set of variables used to create the segments. And there you have it; instant ‘differences’ on behaviors you care about across your segmentation. But in reality, it’s just a weak form of RFV selection.

Many use demographics along with attitudes to ensure differences in the segments (to fit some preconceived, totally false notion that demographics matter). Adding age to the attitude variables will, by definition, create segments that think a bit differently (on random but alluring irrelevant info) and that are different average ages. But so would adding star-sign, hair colour or height!

This approach always yields an enormous number supposedly ‘strategic’ segments (I’ve seen them range from seven to thirty plus segment’s!) If they were real (which by virtue of how they were created is impossible) they’d be impossible to deliver on.

All told it’s an enormously costly effort to produce segment’s that put the ‘less’ in useless.

Again, the mindset of re-segmenting based on a deeper understanding of supporters is 100% right. But it’s not hard to see this popular methodology is dangerously wrong. In the next post I’ll share exactly how you should segment and how it has led to results like these.

What dirty tricks lie in wait for your fundraising behind these doors?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Halloween! And while I know that it’s celebrated differently and has different origins and meanings throughout the world (where it’s even celebrated at all), I’m here in the US, and here it’s a whole lot about trick-or-treating. So let’s knock on a few scary doors and see what tricks befall us. Maybe we can conjure up a few treats, as well.

Scary door No. 1: The “Stop Direct Mail Acquisition” Trick

This door, decorated for the holidays with dollar bills, is tempting – but knock at your own risk.

The costume: The disaster behind this door is dressed as a siren. So sexy. So alluring. Calling to you with the mellifluous promise of cost savings and black ink on the annual ledger. But that siren call can be one expensive song. Some organisations have given in and, in general, it doesn’t end well.

The candy: This is the house that gives out stale popcorn balls. They seem like a good idea, but it soon becomes apparent they’ll leave your mouth as dry as your donor funnel.

How to turn it into a treat: You can’t. Avoid this house altogether. If your acquisition has been historically based on direct mail, don’t stop direct-mail acquisition. Cut back, if you need to, in tough economic times Refocus, dig deeper into your files. Send out more compelling letters and more precise campaigns. But don’t wash your hands of those pesky, expensive acquisition efforts. If you do, the bone-chilling effects will haunt your database for years to come.

Scary door No. 2: The “Jumping into Social Media Unprepared” Trick

If you’re deep into your social media efforts – and, really, you should be; it’s 2017, after all – you might think this door was bricked over ages ago. Unfortunately, some organisations still come knocking, lured by the seemingly willy-nilly nature of social media. This sweet door is all soft edges and stardust, back-lit by the gentle glow of fireflies and unicorn smiles. Wait, is it even a door — or is it just a portal made of champagne, glitter and that stuff from inside a lava lamp? Whatever it is, behind it you might find an uninspired intern overseeing social media. Or a staff that’s been charged with “engaging” online but that doesn’t have a clue how to do that, really. You might even run into an executive director who’s totes on board with social media because – boy, howdy! – the organisation is going to raise a million dollars on “the Facebook” this year.

The costume: This disaster’s costume no doubt is a fairy, flitting from social site to social site, sprinkling random posts like golden dust that makes your fan base soar. But fairies are fickle, and that damn dust winds up in the darnedest of places. Once it does, it’s not easy to extract. And in the cold light of day it’s really no more magical than that fluffy combination of dead skin, dog fur, carpet bits and microscopic insects that you find under your bed.

The candy: This is the house that gives out Zotz from 1972. They’re pretty and sweet, then all of a sudden … an explosion of fizzy awfulness puckers your face and burns your nostrils from the inside.

How to turn it into a treat: Get a social media plan. Know who and where your intended audience is. Use social media to entice, engage, educate. Don’t make every post a pitch. If you want to make social media friends, you have to be a social media friend. Let go of the old hit-and-run mentality of donor messaging, and stick around to be part of the conversation. And get real: Paint a clear picture of how you’ll measure success. No, you (probably) won’t be raising a million dollars on Facebook this year. But you very well could increase your number of engaged followers by 100. Or you could aim to post a relevant video a week. Or craft sexy Twitter posts that lead people to your kick-ass, lovingly responsive home page. Outline some reasonable goals so you – and your boss and your team – know what to expect. And what to celebrate – even if it doesn’t result in an immediate influx of dollars.

Scary door No. 3: The “Walking Dead Board” Trick

This door is pretty dusty. Cobwebs galore. And what’s that smell?

The costume: This disaster is dressed as an army of the undead, trudging slowly toward… oh wait, those aren’t costumes. Those are your actual board members. They’ve not only gathered moss – they’ve grown roots.

The candy: The candy you get here is old Turkish Taffy. It looks brittle because it is brittle, and unyielding. And any snazzy flavor it might have had is long gone.

How to turn it into a treat: Fire those bad boys up! Bring someone your organisation has helped into your board meetings. Or bring in some volunteers who give of their time just because they care about your mission. Remind your board members what it is you do and why it matters and why they signed on in the first place.

And give them something to do, for Pete’s sake! But it has to be something they’re comfortable with. A lot of board members would rather dance with a demon than ask their high-powered pals for money. But can they host an ice-breaker? Make an introduction? Get on the phone and thank people? Of course they can. Your board members want to help – you just have to help them help you. And if they really, really don’t want to help…. well, let’s just say it might be time to think about what has to happen – what you have to do – to put in place the board that’s going to support your work in the way a board should and do right by your organisation and the people/causes it serves.

Scary door No. 4: The “Putting All Your Eggs into One Basket” Trick

Ohhhhh…. look at this door. It’s so green and so lush. It’s been here forever. It’s so, so comfortable. And so easy to open.

Until it’s not anymore.

The costume: Behind this door, the disaster is dressed as a guillotine. Because once the tried-and-true funding source – that evergreen, never-have-to-worry-about-it funding source – you’ve put all your financial eggs into is cut off, the cut is quick and decisive… and none too good for your organisation’s lifeline.

The candy: Pop Rocks. Remember those? And how they hurt? They were like rolling glass shards around in your mouth. This is a house of pain.

How to turn it into a treat: Diversify, of course. Don’t count on any one fuundraising channel, donor, foundation, partnership to be your organisation’s lifeline. Never fear the new conversations that could lead to great, new things and sweet sustainability.

What about that house at the end of your lane? What does that scary door look like? What will you find when you knock? And what can you do to turn any tricks that might be waiting there into treats?

The 4 best ways to find new prospects for your non-profit

Prospects are the lifeblood of your non-profits fundraising program. Without a steady stream of new donor prospects, your non-profit will not be able to raise the money it needs to thrive. Yet, when it comes to prospecting, many organizations try far too many strategies, never able to focus on the few that will succeed in bringing in new donors.

In my experience, the best approach for most non-profits is to build a prospecting system that relies on three to five tried-and-true strategies for engaging new donors for the organization. Here are the four best ways for your non-profit to find new prospects.

#1: Ask for referrals

One of the best ways to find new prospects for your non-profit is to ask your current donors, volunteers, supporters and board members for referrals. Many of your donors and supporters would be glad to serve as ambassadors for your non-profit, introducing your team to their own friends, family, colleagues and neighbors.

The best way to ask your donors and supporters for referrals is to be direct. Sit down with your donors (or call them on the phone), and ask them, Who else do you know who might be interested in our work? Id love to meet them!

#2: Hold a non-ask event

As the name suggests, non-ask events are events where you dont do any fundraising there is no cost to attend, and your team doesnt make an ask at the event. Sometimes called cultivation events or point-of-entry events, these events are a great opportunity to meet new prospects and introduce them to your mission and your team.

The best non-ask events last 60-90 minutes, and feature short talks from your team, a tour of your facilities (if appropriate), and a chance for your prospects to get to know your development and executive staff,

#3: Turn social media followers into donors

Your social media followers can be a great source of new prospects for your annual giving efforts if you approach them the right way.

The best way to turn your social media supporters into donors is to get them to sign up for your e-mail newsletter list. Asking social media followers for donations is a low-yield proposition, unlike e-mail fundraising appeals, which have a much higher rate of success.

Your best bet is to spend lots of time on your social media networks linking back to your non-profits website. On your site, you should be prominently asking visitors to sign-up for your organizations e-mail newsletter list. Your e-mail list can then be used for e-mail fundraising appeal letters, which will turn your social media followers into annual donors to your organization.

#4: Hold a thought leadership event

People love to donate to non-profits that are the best at what they do. One of the best ways to find new donors and to prove that you are among the best in your mission area is to hold regular thought leadership events.

Thought leadership events are round tables, conferences and presentations by well-known experts in your field that appeal to people who are interested in your work. As you host (and market) thought leadership events, you will attract new prospective donors to attend the events and sign up for your newsletter list. These attendees are interested in your work and will become prospects for your fundraising appeals, provided that they receive proper cultivation from your team.

Fundraisers: Stop being oil & water. Be gin & tonic instead


Imagine this:

You (a fundraiser) go into a meeting with marketing and they have a BIG IDEA. It’s a good one.

And then they say, “You can fundraise with this, right?”


This is not what we would call integration of marketing and fundraising – not at all. Sometimes trying to get marketing and fundraising to work together is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

If your marketing colleagues have been working on a big awareness campaign for the year-end period – maybe they’ve even been working with an external marketing or ad agency – and they come up with a great big idea, wouldn’t it be ideal for your donors and prospective donors if your fundraising efforts could reflect that same big idea?

We would think yes. But how often does it? How often do we have to alter our communications – and perhaps even dilute them – in order to make it work?

Too often.

But that doesn’t mean that integration doesn’t work between marketing and fundraising. It just means we aren’t making it work.

Integration defined

One Voice – a best practice guide to integrated communications (via Paul Vanags article Opinion: Fundraising and Comms Integration: Count Me Out Its Time for FR-EXIT [Fundraising-Exit!]) – defines integration in the following way:

The concept of making all methods of marketing – advertising, direct marketing, public relations, digital engagement, etc. – work in unison across all aspects of an organisation’s activities, rather than in isolation.

What’s important in that definition? Making all methods of marketing work in unison, rather than in isolation.

Working together does not mean working in the same way. It does not mean the big idea has to be used verbatim in fundraising activities. It means they need to work in unison.

Why integrate?

As Paul says in the previously referenced article, “[Integration is] a strategic choice. There’s no question about it. So why would we – or wouldnt we – integrate?

Well, as fundraisers and even marketers for charities, who should be at the centre of our communications (whether awareness- or fundraising-focused)?

The donor.

Donor-focused integration means that all communications engage and inspire donors or prospective donors to be part of the story. That means it has to be a story with a consistent message, problem, solution, offer, and emotion that connects with the donor.

When we think about integration, we must think about the audience.

And if a donor sees the same kind of message across various channels a number of times, it has a psychological effect on them, and their chance of responding is significantly higher.

That is good integration.

What does integration NOT mean?

Integration does not mean that every communication has the exact same message. Above we said, the same kind of message.

If you try to find one single message that will speak to all forms of communication, all channels, and all audiences, you are likely to find what Paul calls “lowest common denominators” and the “loss of meaning” that results.

We couldn’t agree more. But that’s the result of thoughtless and lazy integration, not integration in and of itself.

Integration isn’t about the exact same creative or the exact same message; it’s about unity between them. It’s about a connection between them. Paul talks about the loss that can happen from integration, for example: loss of meaning. This would be a huge loss, to be sure, but again this is when integration is done wrong.

The reverse of that is your organisation continually going out with different and disconnected messages. We believe there’s a greater loss in that.

Oil & water

We think the bigger problem than whether integration works (we think it does) is how marketing and fundraising usually work together. It’s like oil and water; they don’t mix.

Too often, marketing tells fundraising what to do.

Too often, fundraising doesn’t see their role in marketing, and vice versa.

Too often, marketers’ performance and fundraisers’ performance aren’t evaluated on outcomes that relate to one another, thereby silo-ing their departments.

Too often, these departments are already siloed. Their perceptions of one another aren’t reality. They don’t have relationships. They have tensions. They have frustrations. They have barriers.

Sometimes it boils down to leadership. If leaders are doing their job right, they won’t suggest status quo or blindly following dogmas. They’ll encourage deeper, critical thinking, which often manifests in integration.

We think that leadership should encourage integration. When we bring our best thinking, skills, resources – including budgets! – together, we are positioned more strongly for success.

But it must be from the beginning; fundraising cannot be an afterthought. Fundraising must be part of the conversation from the get-go, so that all departments – marketing, fundraising, and beyond – can bring their unique lens to the task at hand: inspiring more awareness of and motivating people to give to your cause.

Case study

Are there examples of this being done right? Yes (but unfortunately, not many).

The Canadian charity, Heart & Stroke, was faced with two issues:

  1. Their brand had never been fully integrated and they had 40+ sub-brands that made their brand – and thereby their reason for being – incredibly unclear.
  2. As a result of the above, combined with other factors, Canadians didnt fully realize the urgency of the cause and the tangible impact Heart & Stroke makes on health care in Canada.

They decided to address these big issues with a big undertaking: a full re-brand.

But they didn’t do it in a silo. They didn’t have marketing and fundraising operating like oil and water. Instead, they worked together and were laser-focused on one thing: Inspiring Canadians to join Heart & Stroke by reappraising the brand and donating to the cause.

In that focus, marketing and fundraising are integrated, they’re on the same level.

As they continued on the re-brand journey, here are some of the things they did to address the two issues named above:

  • They determined their reason for being: Protecting life’s core (as in, the heart).
  • They determined their why – or their purpose: We don’t want you to miss it. (Read: the “big idea”).
  • This laddered down into their how: Saving moments. Funding breakthroughs. Saving lives. ( How they protect life’s core, how they ensure you don’t miss out on life, and what your money goes to.)
  • They asked their existing donors what matters to them to ensure the donor is at the forefront of the re-brand (and not an afterthought).
  • They tested fundraising propositions in focus groups to see what would resonate.
  • They built journey maps that outlined the constituent experience, and clearly outlined where marketing and fundraising fit in along the way.
  • They brought the new brand to life through a monthly donor acquisition campaign; awareness of the cause wasn’t enough for real change – people needed to be able to take action

Marketing and fundraising. Fundraising and marketing. They worked together.

And it did work. The re-brand was followed by a monthly acquisition campaign that was, again, a joint venture for marketing and fundraising.

This campaign acquired 500 percent more monthly donors than they did during the same time period the year previous.

They also garnered millions of media impressions and social interactions, thereby achieving their focus of Canadians reappraising the brand and donating to the cause.

That is what integration done right can do.


In conclusion, integration isnt easy. But it makes things easier for donors. It makes them more a part of your story. It makes them more aware of what you do. It makes them more aware of their part in it. It makes them more inspired. And it makes them more motivated to give.

So, we encourage you to do the harder thing and integrate!

Stop being oil & water. Be a gin & tonic.


Are you ready for some Major Giving Bullsh*t Bingo?

The potential for large gifts is huge in almost all types and sizes of organisation. But too often, the program is never allowed to reach it’s full potential. Here’s why.

Lack of institutional readiness

The problem is that in an estimated eight out of ten cases, internal people and obstacles prevent success. Just recently we heard from a major gift officer from a medium-sized organization, who said, “Until recently our work was defined as work only when we were in the office.”

Professionals know: Success in major gift fundraising is closely linked to being on the road to donors, sitting next to them, talking and — most importantly — listening to them. The attitude of the boss above? A clear indication of lack of institutional readiness. Here, a key person is not at all on line with major gift fundraising. You might think that someone (in fact, her boss) is actually trying to prevent big gifts.

Institutional readiness for major gift fundraising involves the complex interaction of a variety of different components of content, structure and personnel.

Complexity of institutional readiness

Many things need to align in order for an organisation to start and sustain institutional readiness for major gift fundraising. Among them:

  • A convincing and motivating case for support
  • Realistic funding projects and plausible financial requirements
  • Potential major donors — that is to say, people who might be willing to contribute a large gift
  • Committed leaders within the organization, as well as honorary external leaders
  • Structural and personnel requirements

Simple solutions exist…

Unfortunately, not. It is a complex, long-term and multifaceted process to condition an organization, its structures and people for successful major gift fundraising. It requires a conscious handling of internal hurdles and challenges, a long breath, and the consequent confrontation with cracking points. In some cases, external consultants seem to be able to prepare the ground, because it is often (unfortunately) that the prophets are not heard in their own country.

Playfully and jointly uncover knack points

Do you want to uncover some of the major indications that your organisation is missing the institutional readiness needed for major gifts success in a playful way? Use our Major Giving Bullshit Bingo card! As soon as one player recognizes and ticks three statements about major gift fundraising within your organisation, he or she has won. (But maybe the organisation is losing — lots of potential income from major gifts.)

Download the Major Gifts Bullshit Bingo Card

Have fun with the game, but remember that the real fun (aka: work) begins when it comes time to start fixing things so no one can win at this game in the future!

Get in touch, and let me know how it goes. What are your organisations obstacles to major gift fundraising? What’s holding you back?

Editor’s note: You can catch Jan in action at #IFC2017, happening 17-20 October in the Netherlands. He’ll be presenting a masterclass on “The essentials of major donor fundraising” and a really cool special session in the Resource Cafe called “Improbrain: Move your body, move your brain, boost your creativity!There’s still time to register!

The day Mr. Toilet changed my life

IFC Asia, which took place in Bangkok in June, was my first IFC, full stop. Now, I’m not what you’d consider your typical fundraiser. In fact, there were many moments I felt a bit of a fraud as I don’t work at a “charity”. But if I took one thing away from this conference, it was that this wasn’t about fundraising or the “third sector”. It was actually about social impact.
Following is from a blog I wrote as it was all happening:
I’ve just come out of the closing plenary, where I was fortunate enough to hear Jack Sim, aka Mr. Toilet, talk sh*t. Yep. He talked about sh*t for a good 45 minutes, and I can honestly say it was for me one of the best talks I have ever attended. His refreshing approach to what he refers to as quite frankly a sh*t subject has kept him feeling so fresh about sh*t – even though he’s been talking about it for 17 years.

Bouncing onto the stage to discuss the “taboo” subject of poop and how 2.5 billion people have unsafe sanitation, he beamed, “I’m so glad you like sh*t!”

Jack closed the congress with what he calls a “constipated issue”. It was jam packed with substance, puns, reality, inspirational guidance – everything that sums this conference up. But he touched upon a subject very topical for me right now – one I want to call out.

Jack identified that there was a growing trend in this sector, and that trend is “a masculine approach to social impact”. What he meant by that was there are no winners here in this sector. If there are winners, there must be losers, and we cannot sustain this movement of social impact long term if there are losers. People will only become disillusioned and not participate, thus making social impact harder and harder.

The only way we’ll be able to achieve and sustain great social impact is through a family approach. Simply translated: together. Your peers are not your competitors, and you certainly can’t save the world alone. We can achieve more together than we can alone. Something is more than the sum of its parts. We’re on this planet together. We’re in this together, so let’s work together.

Predictably, Mr Toilet was the most in-demand person in the room during the closing plenary at IFC Asia, but I wasn’t leaving without a picture!


PS. Jack is the founder of theWorld Toilet Organization. And he changed my life. If you haven’t come across him or his work before, I URGE you to research him or, better yet, catch him at #IFC2017! There’s still time to register.

There is no 'average conversion rate'

A question that I get asked all the time is, “What is the average conversion rate on a non-profit website?”.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this discussion. And my view is always the same — there is no such thing! I get it, the wish for a standard to compare your performance to that of others, I do. But what I’ve found is that such comparison is impossible and, more often than not, hurtful rather than helpful. There are too many variables; it’s almost always apples and oranges.

Like what are we even calculating conversion rate of and from? You would need some pretty damn similar conditions to even make a number work. I’ll get back to this point.

There are reports, of course, from various service providers and studies done. Some say industry standard conversion rates are 18 percent. Some say the standard is 9 percent. Just the big discrepancies between studies should tell us that these are not very useful numbers.

But inaccuracies are not my biggest concern. Wrong conclusions, and wrong investments, are.

Why comparing conversion rates might make you spend money the wrong place

Say you know the industry standard conversion is 18 percent — this is calculated from a stand-alone donation page with a form on it, and nothing else. On your form, the conversion rate is 15 percent. So now, you will want to invest in improving it. Is that necessarily the right investment? Let’s do some math. (Don’t worry I’ve done the math, you can just follow along and sing a happy song while I’m calculating):

Original scenario
You have 10,000 monthly visitors to your home page.
1 percent of visitors go to your donation page (100 users)
15 percent convert = 15 donations / signups per month.

Improved conversion rate scenario
You invest to get your conversion rates up to 20 percent — above industry standard even!

You still have 10,000 monthly visitors.
1 percent still go to the form (100 users)
20 percent convert = 20 donations / signups per month.

Same conversion rate, improved traffic scenario

Now, say you’ve listened to me and realised that industry standards on conversion rates don’t exist, and you take a look at your whole online donor journey instead. You realise that you could make some changes to your storytelling pages, to get more people on to the donation forms.

You still have 10,000 monthly visitors.
5 percent of users now go to your form (500 users)
15 percent (as originally) convert = 75 donations / signups per month.

So, an investment in conversion rates would have given you 5 more donors a month, while an investment in other web things would give you 60 more donors a month.

This is a simplified example, of course, and I don’t think people who look for conversion rate comparisons ignore other factors. It’s just to show how useless that number is, unless you can be absolutely sure that all other factors have been accounted for.

Too many different needs and goals on different pages

But, some say, what if we look at conversions as a total of all people visiting a page, surely we could compare them then?

Short answer: No.

Look at these two different mock-ups — one portraying a page for a cause (a fake water charity in this case), where all they do is raise money. And the other one portraying a page for a disease charity, where patients and next of kin would come for information and support in addition to giving.

Two different types of website, one fundraising focused and one service focused

It seems obvious now that these two different pages should, and have, different conversion rates. Most people who come to the first page are there to give; most people who come to the second page are not. These are things we have to consider when we look at conversion rates. This is a huge part of why it hardly ever makes sense to compare to others than yourself.

“But I mean the main donate page”

Listen. The only reason you even think of a main donate page is probably because it hasn’t occurred to most web designers to just put the damn form right there on the home page yet. This is what happens when everyone just follows everyone else’s lead. “Everyone else has a DONATE NOW button in the upper right-hand corner? Then so will I”.

Comparing rates here will just stymie innovation and creative thinking.

A mock-up of what a page with the form right there on the home page would look like.

Plan Norway has executed some fresh thinking here beautifully, with a really user-friendly and conversational sponsor-a-child form right there on the home page. As has Norwegian Church Aid, with a form in the middle of the home page that changes depending on the current need of the organisation. (You can run them both through Google translate to understand them, but I recommend keeping the originals open, as GT tends to break design a lot.)

I would say it is quite likely that these pages have much lower conversion rates than a traditional stand-alone donation form page. I also say it is quite likely that they would bring in a lot more donors. And surely, that’s the more important figure?

Lower conversion rates can be a good thing

Mock-up of a standard Support Us page, with all the options stacked and completion taking place on a stand-alone page

On your typical Support Us page, the standard is to just list all the different ways to give, and then lead people on to stand-alone pages for task completion. Because that is what everyone else does (again, I am simplifying). When I worked at the Norwegian Cancer Society, we changed all this in our redesign, combining one-time giving and regular giving in one form, putting it at the top of the page. All the other ways of giving — in memory, becoming a member, legacies, etc. — were below the form.

Mock-up of Support Us page with the form on top, and other options stacked underneath

Guess what the result for conversion rates on the new page were? They went down drastically. Because our form was now on a page with several exit points, like gifts in memory. An option that unfortunately a lot of people come for if you are a cancer charity. But guess what happened to the number of donors? The number of people signing up for monthly gifts increased nearly 10 times over three years. So again what number should we worry about?

So, should I just never look at conversion rates then?

I’m not saying never look at conversion rates. I’m just saying don’t look for a standard where no standard could possibly exist. I’ve been known to compare conversion rates myself— but only when I know all the other factors involved so that I know I am in fact comparing apples and apples.

Your conversion rate is one of the most important numbers to know — just don’t compare it to anyone else’s unless you know they really are comparable. Look at your whole online donation journey. Identify weaknesses. Form hypotheses to improve them. Test it. Did it give you more donors / lower costs / whatever measurement you decided on in advance? Implement. Conversion rate should be one of many important KPIs you use. It’s not the one holy grail of web metrics it is often held up to be.

Are we good? Can we stop asking what the conversion rate should be now? Thanks.

Editor’s Note: You can catch Beate in action at #IFC2017, happening 17-20 October in the Netherlands, where she’ll present the Digital 101 masterclass; the Digital Forum; and a workshop, “How big is your mission — and can it be bigger?“, with Kay Sprinkel Grace. There’s still time to register!


Technology is changing how people give after a disaster

The recent response to the hurricanes that have caused such devastation in the US and the Caribbean is a reminder of the role charitable giving plays in disaster response efforts. Individuals responding to the needs of others is not new, but how people give is changing in many ways. Surprise — the Internet and technology are now playing a larger role than ever in how nonprofits and their supporters interact in times of crisis.

What happens when disaster strikes?

Here is what we know: When natural disasters and other major episodic events take place, people give to help other people. This type of disaster response giving can be traced back over 100 years to the 1889 Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania, which was the first major peacetime relief effort for the American Red Cross. We also know that disaster donors, also called episodic donors, often give in the moment. We know that theres no evidence that disaster giving decreases other charitable giving by those same donors. We know that these episodic donors are very difficult to retain as long-term supporters. This creates a giving dichotomy. Donors that give in support of disasters dont give less to the other charities that they support, but they dont necessarily continue giving to disaster relief organizations.

How does online giving change disaster giving?

Blackbaud has analyzed online disaster response giving as far back as the Sept. 11 attacks in the US in 2001. By analyzing a large amount of online giving data, we uncovered some key insights and patterns. Our analysis found that online giving is the first response channel of choice for donors when disasters and episodic events happen. Ever since the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which was really the game-changing moment for online giving, donors go online after major disasters in massive numbers. Blackbaud has also identified a phenomenon where online giving peaks within three days of the disaster or episodic event. After every major natural disaster or episodic event since 2004, the peak of online giving took place within three days. Even the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 had its peak in online giving over the course of a three-day period.

Now, you might be asking: Why do people choose to give online when a natural disaster or episodic event takes place? Its not just because they are asked. The rise of online giving in response to disasters is the result of a convergence of consumer and technology trends since 2000. If you look at trends from the Pew Research Center about online, broadband, dial-up, online banking, cell phone, smartphone, and social media and overlay several major disasters, then a pattern emerges. Current online response trends emerged from the growth of all these things combined with nonprofits efforts to engage prospects and current supporters online.


The 2004 tsunami was the tipping point for online disaster giving because Internet usage had just surpassed 60 percent of adults in the United States and broadband use had eclipsed dial-up. Additionally, online banking was finally in use by nearly half of Americans. Donors had access to high-speed Internet and they were comfortable making financial transactions online. When the disaster happened, everything was in place to drive online giving in unprecedented amounts. Fast forward to 2010 and the Haiti earthquake. Text-to-give drove millions of dollars in donations because of the convergence of online, mobile, and social usage. Every single disaster since then has seen a significant amount of online and mobile giving. And this response to natural disasters is not just a phenomenon in the United States: Giving in response to the Nepal earthquake in 2016 and the Ebola outbreak in 2016 also saw a huge amount of online activity.

What is the impact of recent disasters on online giving?

We are still in the early stages of measuring the impact of online giving in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma., but there is some early data worth noting. The Blackbaud Index analyzes $3+ billion in online gifts in from more than 5,400 nonprofit organizations in the United States. Through August 2017, online giving is up 9.6 percent for the same organizations compared to August 2016 on a three-month rolling average. Online giving to human services nonprofits was up 13.8 percent, and digital donations to international affairs organizations were up 9.5 percent in August 2017. Keep in mind that these trends are measured on a three-month rolling average; this is done intentionally to smooth out spikes from things like episodic giving. Also, it is worth noting that Hurricane Harvey did not make landfall until Aug. 25, and Hurricane Irma did not make landfall in the United States until Sept. 10.

Blackbaud would expect more pronounced changes in the data to appear in September 2017. And since giving options have proliferated across the web to platforms like Facebook, Google, Dropbox and a variety of places other than a nonprofits website, it will likely take more time to see the full results of giving to these disaster relief efforts. Until then, we know that a tremendous amount of online giving did happen in response to these storms, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down for future major episodic events.

Editor’s note: You can catch Steve at #IFC2017, where he’ll be presenting a workshop titled “Big data, AI and unicorns,” and taking part in the Digital forum: Edge of tomorrow session. There’s still time to register!

Blue Ocean Strategy: Identifying your 3 tiers of non-supporters

Blue Ocean strategy captured the imagination of the for-profit world almost as soon as the book of the same name by W. Chan Kim and Rene Mauborgne was first published in 2005. An expanded edition was republished in 2015. The book offers a framework and set of tools designed to enable agencies to identify how to grow exponentially and innovatively. (To find out more about these tools and frameworks, see this download from my colleagues at =mc.) But its only in recent years that Blue Ocean strategy has been applied in the nonprofit and NGO world.

One aspect of Blue Ocean strategy is about creating new demand in an untested market space with a specific focus on non-customers. This is very different than Red Ocean strategy, where you compete head-to-head for customers in existing market space. This approach has led companies like Nintendo to sell games to grannies and for Australian wine companies to sell wine to beer drinkers.

Let’s consider the microcredit nonprofit Kiva. Kiva Microfunds was founded in October 2005 by Jessica Jackley and Matt Flannery in hopes of combating the problem of finding start-up funds by small local entrepreneurs in developing countries. Their original inspiration for microfinance came from a lecture in 2003 given by Muhammad Yunus from Stanford Business School. Yunus received the Nobel Prize in 2006.

Although microlending and similar money-sharing groups have been around for centuries, with Flannery’s expertise in technology, Jackley and Flannery felt they could simplify the process used by larger institutions and engage the masses in the funding process. They tested their idea in Kenya with seven loans totalling $3,500 in early 2005, and by September, all were repaid. They fully launched the concept in October as a charity with the name Kiva, which means “unity” in Swahili.

By its first anniversary, Kiva had already facilitated loans of $1M, primarily due to the leveraging of well-known entrepreneurs and businessmen such as Premal Shah from PayPal (he actually joined the staff) and Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn.

A tool that can be helpful in creating blue oceans is examining the three tiers of non-customers (in fundraising, think of non-donors). The first tier is comprised of potential customers who are closest to your current market or donor base. They are using a similar product, either out of necessity or they’re simply waiting to jump ship to a better alternative. The good news is that if you can give them what they’re looking for, you will unlock enormous latent demand.

Tier one

Kim and Mauborgne describe the creation by Calloway Golf of the Big Bertha club as an example of this tier one group. The larger head club created a new customer base with people who found the game easier to navigate than their historic perceptions. At the same time, sales increased from frustrated long-time enthusiasts, even those who had always accepted the game’s difficulty, once they realized the club increased their enjoyment and improved their score.

In terms of potential new tier one customers, Kiva could focus on the following groups:

  • People who are frustrated with the overhead of traditional charities: They want to see 100 percent of their money go directly to the beneficiaries. Right now, these prospects may be reluctantly supporting traditional charities.
  • People who wand more control of where their support is going: They want to choose the specific individuals, rather than support vaguely defined groups or communities. Right now, these prospects may not be participating in traditional philanthropy; they might be giving cash to beggars.
  • People who specifically want to support women’s issues: 81 percent of Kiva’s loans are made to women, especially in developing countries where patriarchy and division of labour dominate societal norms. Right now, these prospects might be contributing to various women’s charities or economic empowerment charities, but might not have discovered the alternative of combining the two.

Tier two

The second tier of potential customers are the refusing– they are aware of your product but consciously choose against it. Potentially they do not understand its benefits, or they prefer a different alternative. “Blue Ocean Strategy” uses the example of JCDecaux, a French outdoor advertising company that created the concept of street furniture in 1964. Why? Traditional billboard space was being viewed as transitory by many companies, especially newer companies that felt people didn’t spend enough time with billboard ads to understand and desire their products. JCDecaux created outdoor furniture spaces, like bus stops, where more explicit advertising panels could be displayed. Today, JCDecaux remains the global leader in the street furniture-based ad market.

For tier two, Kiva could focus on the following groups:

  • People who don’t think their donation amounts are large enough to make a real difference so they don’t bother.
  • People who seek a direct connection with a beneficiary and are potentially looking for an alternative to child-sponsorship organizations.
  • People who are interested in the hand-up — as opposed to the hand-out — concept and who may be concerned that philanthropy can, at times, be paternalistic (giving just enough to sustain the beneficiary) and perpetual (beneficiaries will still need help tomorrow).

Tier 3

The last tier, tier three, is defined as the unexplored or those who have never considered the market’s offerings as an option. A great example from the book has to do with the process of tooth whitening. For years, the market and oral care companies believed that dentists were the only ones who could provide that service. That all changed when the oral care companies created their own whitening products that were safe, high quality, and much lower in cost. The companies quickly discovered a huge demand from people who didn’t have a dentist or couldn’t afford these services in a dental office.

For tier three, Kiva could look to create customers beyond those typically associated with supporting charities:

  • Businesses that could support the process with technology enhancements. PayPal was the first significant tier three supporter when it agreed early on to waive its processing fee for loans, saving the lender processing fees.
  • Executives of large entrepreneurship businesses, including the aforementioned Shah from PayPal and Hoffman from LinkedIn.
  • People who are not familiar with microlending as a concept, or who are unaware that individual lenders could participate in the microlending process.

Blue Ocean thinking starts with forgetting about your current consumers and your competition. In fundraising, we’re always thinking about how to move our name and brand to the forefront. Typically, we do that by focusing on what’s working with our current donor group (or what’s working with our competitions donor group!). We may even tweak our current strategy to become more donor-focused and think we’re being innovative. Nothing wrong with that. But if we don’t move focus beyond our current donor base, then we are likely being eincrementally innovativeand not changing ocean colours. Blue oceans create something radically different of value that allows you to massively expand beyond your current donor or customer set.

Red Ocean and Blue Ocean strategies are not mutually exclusive. Effective fundraising requires that you continue to do well those things that keep your current donors happy – they are your existing market. But if your goal is to swim in blue water, then you must identify what will be appealing to your non-donors/customers.

And no sooner than you create the most amazing Blue Ocean strategy, your competition will be working on ways to replicate what youve done – and you’ll be headed towards red again!

Editor’s note: Interested in learning more about Blue Ocean fundraising? Alan will co-present a masterclass on the subject at IFC 2017, happening 17-20 October in the Netherlands.



Why it's almost impossible to fix your stubborn fundraising problems

Every charity has its own stubborn fundraising problem – one it’s never been able to solve. What’s yours? Perhaps it’s:

  • All channels: falling response rates?
  • DM: a struggling banker pack?
  • F2F/D2D/private site: low engagement?
  • Cash: second gift rate consistently low?
  • Online: poor open and click rates?
  • TM: high hard no rates?
  • Or…?

The list could go on indefinitely. But however many problems, there is one uniting them all – the many failed creative “solutions” were undermined by faux science.

So much great creative effort and talent has been wasted. Not because the writer couldn’t write, or the designer couldn’t design. But because what they were writing/designing was based on useless “insight”.

Think of that survey or focus group whose answers were fascinating but didnt translate into change. Or all that supposed insight drawn from correlation rather than causation, e.g. ridiculous statements like “Men prefer X, but women prefer Y”or “Millennials need … ” (as though the many millions of millennials are identical!).

I speak from painful experience having worked as creative director for a large agency. I can sadly and truthfully say I never once received a remotely useful brief. Sure, they could tell me what they wanted people to do. But they couldn’t begin to tell me why people would want to do it.

No wonder those stubborn fundraising problems remain unsolved! Solving them requires subject matter expertise in the science of changing human behaviour.

Many preach the miracles of behavioural science. But few are qualified to practise it.

Dr. Kiki Koutmeridou of DonorVoice has both a PhD in behavioural science and an MSc in neuroscience. In other words, she is an expert on the subject of human decision making.

Working alongside her has blown up everything I thought I knew about behavioural science. Like any conscientious creatives, I avidly consume books, blogs and conferences on behavioural science. But that doesn’t make me a scientist … just a well-intentioned amateur.

I “knew” a lot of things for sure before working with Dr. Koutmeridou. For example, I, like any amateur who’s read a few books, would have told you with certainty that social proof (the principle that we do what we see others doing) was damn near an immutable law.

Unfortunately, nothing’s that simple. Here’s what happens when that generic principle is expertly applied in a specific context. In this case trying to gain supporter consent.


Two things are immediately striking:

1. There is a massive variance between the highest and lowest performing condition. But the only variable is literally a single word.
2. There are two cases where not using the principle perform better than using it.

These results, in this case, will have direct impact on how many people consent to be contacted. In other words, the financial future of this organisation rests on getting this right. I know for sure I couldn’t have guessed which was the correct execution. Could you? Could your agency?

That said, Dr. Koutmeridou would be the first to tell you that transforming behavioural theory into problem solving application takes creative expertise. And, frankly, I’m loving every minute of working alongside her, creatively applying her insight. Between us we’ve taken solid scientific study and translated it into creative that’s delivered game-changing results across channels.

Here’s a recent and radical example of a stubborn problem that was solved, which resulted in a 42 percent increase in total revenue (not a typo!)

Whatever your perennial fundraising problem, there will be a creative execution of a scientific solution. So, you’ll need both a scientist and an artist.

For a free consultation on fixing your stubborn fundraising problem, drop me a line at chulme@thedonorvoice.com

Editor’s note: You can catch Charlie in action at #IFC2017, taking place 17-20 October in the Netherlands, where he’ll present a masterclass, “How science has transformed the supporter journey (and the enormous difference its had on retention and net revenue!)” and workshop, “GDPR What does it mean, what do we need to do?” Luckily, there are still some spots left! Snag yours here.

4 signs you are a burned-out nonprofit fundraiser – and what to do about it

You’ve smiled through back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings with donors all day. You just got an email that your best prospect cancelled on you. It’s late in the day, but you’ve got to finish that grant report before you can leave the office.

After the work day ends, you pack up and decide to go home, eat dinner, and then finish up the grant report from home. Just before midnight, you send an email to your boss, but when you do you find an email requesting that you prepare some donor research for a morning meeting.

It’s totally normal to feel super exhausted after a particularly rough day – but if every day is starting to feel rough and your work day extends into your evenings and weekends, you might be close to burning out.

The clinical definition of burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that occurs when we feel overwhelmed by too many demands, too few resources, and too little recovery time”. The harsh working environment for nonprofits is a perfect recipe for a whole bunch of burnt-out nonprofit fundraising professionals and others.

The good news is that once you know the signs of burnout, you can take steps to stop it. That’s exactly what Corine Aartman and I will be teaching at our IFC masterclass in October. Part of the masterclass is based on my new book, “The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout,” which will help you learn to recognize burnout, along with self-care activities to alleviate your stress.

Here are four warning signs of burnout, coupled with easy ways to feel better.

Warning sign #1: You’re feeling weary and small things are starting to really (really) irritate you.

Burnout can sneak up on you – and the first sign is often a short fuse. Maybe every little thing about a donor, a board member or your executive director is rubbing you the wrong way. Your executive team’s expectations are way out of whack, and you just don’t have the energy to politely set them straight. The wifi is on the fritz again, and it feels like the end of the world.

Every nonprofit fundraiser has to put up with some annoyances, but if you’re feeling like you’re at your wit’s end at the start of the day, you might be burning out. Left unchecked, this can evolve into angry outbursts and serious arguments both at home and at work.

Self-care solution: Get more sleep, even if it means taking a 20-minute nap under your desk.

If you find yourself snapping at the people around you, you need to catch up on your ZZZs. Sleep deprivation messes with your concentration, mood and ability to cope. To get more sleep at home, stop trying to cram in one more email before bed and avoid staring at screens before you hit the hay.

But don’t limit your shut-eye to your bed. Sleep in the workplace may seem like an oxymoron, but napping during the day can improve cognitive functioning, leading to greater productivity at work. Studies show that daytime napping can elevate moods and even improve immune function.

Find a quiet room or place at your office or nearby where you can get some brief shuteye. Yes, some professionals actually curl up under their desk for a cat nap. Better yet, approach your employer about a meditation or nap room and show them data on increased productivity from a well-rested staff.

Warning sign #2: You can’t seem to concentrate on anything and your productivity is suffering.

When you’re overworked and over stressed, it affects your concentration – your mind wanders, you forget things easily, you can’t focus.

Self-care solution: Add more movement into your workday; stand up and walk around to clear your mind.

If you’re having trouble focusing, you may be suffering from ‘foggy brain’ caused by too much sitting at work. One study found that a simple 20-minute walk can significantly improve your ability to concentrate. While another at Stanford University determined people were more creative when they were walking versus sitting.

My advice: Stop using your computer keyboard as a lunch tray. Instead, incorporate a brain-replenishing walk into your lunch hour. Don’t think of taking a walk as taking a break or slacking, but instead consider it a tool that will improve your productivity and bring more innovative ideas to your work.

Warning sign #3: You’re feeling sluggish throughout your day, even when you get plenty of sleep.

Your energy dips at work more often than the post-lunch crash. You feel physically and emotionally exhausted – depleted even. You may go to bed early, only to wake up still feeling tired.

You might find it difficult to get out of bed at all. This sort of fatigue only adds to your anxiety about all the work you need to get done in a given day.

Self-care solution: Stick to healthy foods and beverages – and avoid the temptation of sugary snacks at the office.

What we eat and drink can impact how our bodies and brains work. There’s a reason why healthy food is called “brain food”. Knowing what we put into our bodies can mean the difference between being strong, clear-headed and effective or being sluggish, dull and slow at work.

At home, you may be successful at avoiding sugary snacks because you don’t buy them. But at work, if there are chocolate-covered donuts in the conference room, you might be tempted to indulge. That’s why it’s so important to make a plan for bringing healthy foods and beverages to the office in order to make better nutritional choices.

If you’re not sure where to start, “The Kaiser Permanente Healthy Meetings Guide” includes a list of light meals and snacks that are simple and low cost, and the “American Heart Association’s Healthy Workplace Food and Beverage Toolkit” provides nutritional guidance for food in the workplace with practical action tips.

Warning sign #4: You’re feeling compelled to overwork because you think it’s the only way to get everything done.

Working in fundraising means that you may find yourself working after hours and weekends to research donors, write proposals or plan campaign strategies. And, of course, you may not mind that much if you have a real passion for your work.

However, your passion can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that fervor helps you keep going in the face of difficult challenges. On the other hand, you can become so driven you don’t stop to refuel or smell the proverbial roses or even notice your work is starting to take a toll on your health and well-being.

Self-care solution: Give yourself a break -when you work too much, you’re not getting much done.

Sometimes our reaction to stress is to work nights and weekends, not taking breaks throughout the day, or sacrificing vacations days.

These habits are not healthy and will definitely make you unhappy, leading you down the slippery slope to burnout. And the kicker? Working longer hours actually decreases your productivity.

If you’re someone who accumulates vacation time without taking it, you are essentially working for free. Use your vacation time, and take real vacations where you completely disconnect from work, emails and the mobile devices that connect you to work.

If you give your brain a chance to reboot, you’ll return to work with more clarity and perspective that will serve both you and your company far better than staying late at the office.

The bottom line: Self-care isn’t a luxury – it’s the key to being productive at work. When you are overworked and super stressed, you will not perform at the top of your game. Take better care of yourself so you can raise more money for your organisation’s mission to save the world.

What are the challenges of innovating in the non-profit sector?


That was the big question we pondered when we gathered in an office overlooking London Bridge recently to plan Innovation Camp 2017 at this year’s IFC, coming up 17-20 October in the Netherlands.

Innovation Camp premiered at IFC in 2016, conceived by the quirky and creative minds of Marcelo Iniarra and Nick Allen. Dozens of participants went off-site, away from the hustle and bustle of the NH Hotel where IFC takes place, and ventured to Amsterdam for two packed days full of inspiration around the challenge of bringing more innovation into our daily work.

Marcelo and Nick wanted to make it bigger and better for 2017. So they gathered some of the sector’s best and brightest to determine the key issues to address when trying to get innovation sparking in non-profits. Among the thinkers and doers on hand:

  • Franki Ambrogetti, UNICEF Italy
  • Juan Cruz Mones Cazon, UNICEF Geneva
  • Lucy Sandford, UNICEF UK
  • Ellen Janssens, Dutch Heart Foundation
  • Danielle Porteus, Canadian Paralympic Committee
  • Duncan Cook, 3 sided cube

And I was on hand as facilitator of the day. Here are some of the tough questions we tackled in order to put together an even more powerful Innovation Camp for IFC 2017

Should ‘Innovate or Die!’ be our mantra?
This is the mantra of the tech-geeks of Silicon Valley, and it should be the mantra of the non-profit sector too. If we don’t adapt to our ever-changing world, we’ll become obsolete. That does not, however, only apply to the fundraising departments, but to the whole of our organisations. One big challenge, therefore, is to address the silo thinking that we have gotten used to. That in itself would be innovative.

Do we need incremental (vs. radical) innovation?
Innovation is becoming a buzzword that is applied randomly to anything that is slightly new. But what kind of innovation should we focus on — the small things that improve what we’re already doing, or the radical new innovations that transform how we work? Implementing tablets in our face-to-face operations could be an example of incremental innovation, whereas shutting the programme down to come up with something completely new would be radical innovation. But are we as a sector ready for all that radical innovation entails? That brought us to the next question…

Are we too risk averse?
Non-profits are naturally risk averse. We carry a great responsibility to serve our cause with maximum impact, and we are obligated to spend our donors’ contributions wisely. But innovation is a messy, costly business. Or, as digital visionary Kevin Kelly says, “Innovation is an inefficient process”. If we want to innovate our fundraising, we need to be ready to invest without always getting a return straight away. Innovation funds with an attached ROI target won’t work – we cannot count on hitting the target in the first go. We also need to get ready to fail, and fail often.

Are we failing enough?
Of course we are. But we tend to not share it, or when we fail, we tend to pull the plug on the project rather than seeing it as a learning experience, evaluate and improve. The entrepreneur’s mantra is ‘“fail fast”. Find out what doesn’t work  – quickly – and improve it. Overnight successes or eureka moments are not how innovation works – it’s a long, hard process and each failure is just one of the 10,000 steps to success. We should embrace and share our failures internally and within our sector.

How do we address these questions? And what other challenges do you face when trying to bring innovation to your work? Let’s hear it in the comments. Then register for IFC 2017 and join us at this year’s Innovation Camp. (Yes, we still have tickets left

Fundraising Code Changes, July 2017

Distilling 29 pages into 5

Following the Fundraising Regulator’s first consultation on the Code of Fundraising Practice, they have now released changes to the Code along with details of the sector and public consultation responses. Their document runs to 29 pages, so in about five pages, this blog summarises the main outcomes to help you identify key issues for your own organisation.

The amends to the Code fall into two main areas. I’ll be summarising key points from the new version of the Code and associated rationale from the regulator. I’ll also make clear the Regulator’s expectation of when charities will have adopted the new rules.

Governance, policy and oversight: Code recognises Trustees’ governance responsibility for fundraising; Policy and practice for fundraising and vulnerable people; Whistleblowing in relation to fundraising matters.

Conduct of fundraising: Additions to the rules on maximum number of donation asks. At what stage must a solicitation statement have been given in a fundraising call? What standards does the Code expect for the content and monitoring of contracts with professional or third party fundraisers? Minor changes to the rules around clothing collection bags.

Governance, policy and oversight:

Charity TRUSTEES: responsibility for fundraising governance. Code 1.2

What’s changed? The code now includes a requirement for trustees to ‘have regard to national guidance in overseeing the fundraising activities of their charity and any [relevant] third parties’. The Code references guidance applicable in England & Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Implement by: Immediately – 31 July 2017 – the Regulator notes that charities should already be following governance guidance issued by the Charity Commission, OSCR or CCNI as appropriate.

Comment: The Regulator stopped short of recommending that Boards appoint/nominate a trustee with responsibility for fundraising and compliance. They felt that recommending this would detract from the key message – that fundraising governance is a whole board responsibility.

In my work helping trustees get up to speed with fundraising governance and the wider regulatory environment for fundraising, I am disturbed by the number of Boards and trustees with little or no awareness of CC20 (my work is mostly in England) or of the principles it sets out. If you’ve not done so yet, encourage your Board to read and discuss the guidance – and make sure it is part of your induction process for new trustees. (See also my earlier blog for more trustee induction thoughts.)

People in vulnerable circumstances

What’s changed? No change to existing guidance – existing rules deemed adequate.

Implement by: Existing guidance – you should be complying already.

Comment: I have included this in the Governance Policy and Oversight section as, considering the recent history of fundraising practice, how your charity treats vulnerable people should be a core governance issue. Indeed, it is one of the areas larger charities are required to report on under changes to reporting requirements brought in by the Charities Act 2016. However, it is also relevant to the Conduct of Fundraising section, and could equally sit there.

The Regulator’s purpose was to check that existing regulations are effective and adequate. A high proportion of respondents thought so. The challenge for trustees and management teams is that the rules regarding the treatment of vulnerable people are scattered through the Codes. (Please do let me know if you think a blog drawing the strands together would be helpful.) In summary, we are required to treat donors fairly, considering the needs of those who may be in vulnerable circumstances, and of course should not exploit vulnerability or credibility. We should not take donations from those we suspect lack capacity to make a decision. Charities large enough to require an audit must state in their annual report what they have done to protect vulnerable people.

The Code signposts the Institute of Fundraising’s Treating Donors Fairly, but does not draw its content into the Code. It is for charities – and their boards – to consider how they will respond, and what training they will ensure their fundraisers receive. The discussion notes suggest that charities may wish to track cases where they have identified vulnerability to see what action is taken and whether further financial asks are blocked. Blocking would be a bit of a sledgehammer response – not all vulnerability is permanent. See further notes on vulnerable people in the section on the fundraising ask, and working with third parties later in this blog.

Raising concerns about fundraising PRACTICE: whistleblowing

What’s changed? Charities are required to have a clear, published internal procedure for staff and volunteers to report any concerns they may have concerning their organisation’s fundraising practice.

Implement by: 30 November 2017

Comment: The Regulator accepted suggestions that the whistleblowing procedure could be part of the organisation’s wider whistleblowing procedures rather than standalone. The regulation tells us that Charity policies should define:

  • The type of issues that may arise, and process for reporting
  • How the whistleblower will be protected from victimisation or harassment
  • How and what the organisation will do in response
  • How the matter can be escalated if it cannot be resolved internally.

Conduct of Fundraising

The fundraising ask

What’s changed? (i) A rule already in force for door to door and street fundraisers has been extended to other forms of person to person fundraising: that no further ask should be made if a person clearly indicates by word or gesture that they do not wish to continue to engage (1.2g). (ii) 1.2g has also been extended so that fundraisers must not persist with a financial ask if they have reasonable grounds for believing that the individual is in vulnerable circumstances which means they are unable to make an informed decision to donate. (iii) The three asks rule for telephone calls (8.3) has been clarified: it limits financial asks to three to differentiate between those and ‘donations’ of time or action.

Implement by: For section 1.2g relating to indications that people do not wish to engage, and regarding vulnerable people, the deadline is 30 Sept 2017 to allow time for training. The change to telephone calling rules in 8.3 is a small clarification and organisations should already be applying the 3 ask maximum rule – so no grace period for this.

Comment: I am pleased to see the Regulator to go to some lengths to show that it will not interpret ‘financial ask’ too broadly. ‘£5 a month could pay for xyz’ is information, not an ask. But ‘Could you give £5 a month to pay for xyz?’ is. The ask is the point at which money is requested.  The Consultation review notes the part that conversational questions play in such conversations, and if there is no financial ask buried in them, then they are not counted towards the three. The Regulator also stresses that the three ask rule is for telephone fundraising calls, not other conversations.

There is some nervousness from respondents about the exercise of judgement needed to interpret whether a gesture or word is a clear indication of a wish to cease engagement. Here the Regulator does rather fall back on ‘it depends’ thinking: the regulator would consider the strength of evidence supporting or refuting a breach, on where it thinks the balance of probabilities lies.

Timing of solicitation statements

What’s changed? The rule has (4.2 e) is now clear that the disclosure or solicitation statement should be made before money is given or financial details relevant to the transaction are requested by the fundraiser. Existing rules and legislation about the content of the statement is unchanged in each jurisdiction.

Implement by: 30 November 2017 allowing time to cascade to fundraisers, amend scripts and revise training.

Comment: This has occasionally been a difficult area with some callers tagging the solicitation on at the very end of a call, after bank or card details have been collected. Some responders thought the new rule unnecessarily restrictive, denying fundraisers the flexibility to include the statement at the most appropriate moment in each call.

The new rules encourage transparency – but it will be interesting to see evidence of their impact on conversion over time.

Third party fundraisers

What’s changed? The Code has long expected charities to check and make all reasonable efforts to ensure the ongoing compliance of third parties with the Code and legal requirements. The amended Code sets out considerable detail of what those checks and reasonable efforts should look like. The new rule requires charities to ‘make all reasonable efforts and exercise due diligence to ensure compliance’. It further defines how reasonableness should be interpreted: is it delivering effective and proportionate monitoring? The code sets out 10 benchmarks for how that reasonable effort may be evidenced. See comments section below for more information on these, and the rule 4.2 here, for the detail. The amends also explicitly require fundraising agreements to include compliance and monitoring measures as required by the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016.

Implement by: Immediately (31 July 2017) because charities should already be making ‘reasonable efforts’ to ensure compliance by third party fundraisers.

Comment: This section is not rocket science, but compliance may demand more time and effort than some organisations have typically been able to bring to monitoring their third party fundraisers, contributing to the well documented problems the sector has been facing. Top of the list is ensuring that the values of charities are reflected in policies, performance objectives and indicators of the third party organisation. Trustees have a key role here: have they worked with their organisations to clearly articulate those values, so that their staff can train others in them? The code suggests also that establishing a named individual with responsibility for monitoring compliance is important. Other indicators relate to reporting, monitoring, training review, mystery shopping, complaints arrangements, whistle blowing (see above) and the need to agree action plans where remedial action is necessary.

I would urge fundraising directors to consider the impact of compliance with the Code and ensure that fundraising team budgets and staff levels build in room for these more explicit examples of what the Regulator would consider ‘reasonable efforts’.

Charity Bags

What’s changed? The Code now states that charities conducting house to house bag collections must not deliver to houses that clearly display signs saying no charity bags or no clothing bags – or similar wording.

Implement by: 30 September 2017

Comment: The Regulator has accepted representations that many people do not view charity bags as ‘junk mail’ and has not included that wording in the rules. They have not brought in a compliance monitoring rule at this time, but may do so depending on future complaints about non-compliance.


Overall this is a sensible and well constructed set of changes. The changes add clarity in some areas that were too open to interpretation (for example the timing of the solicitation statement), and give much needed clarity over the sort of things that charities should be doing in setting standards for and monitoring third party fundraisers. This will be particularly helpful for smaller fundraising teams who often find themselves reinventing the wheel.

I do have concerns about some areas that lack clarity: the interpretation of word and gesture that may or may not mean ‘leave me alone’, whether the pragmatic charity bags are not junk mail guidance will leave the door open to further complaints. We will need to watch adjudications to see how this pans out in due course.

If I had to draw a major theme or two out of the changes it is these – and both are directed at trustees and SMTs:

  • The importance of trustees having a clear sense of the values of their organisation, to communicate these explicitly to staff to ensure that staff in turn can set the expectation for third parties, volunteers and anyone fundraising on their behalf. Nowhere in the rules does it say these must be written down – but I recommend the question should be considered by all boards.
  • The C word comes up a lot in the document: Compliance. How will your charity demonstrate compliance with the Code of Fundraising Practice? In my parallel work in the financial services sector, the FCA is adamant that absence of complaints does not mean clients are being treated fairly. Equally in our charity sector, complaints should not be our canary in the mine. We should be considering proactive ways to assess and demonstrate compliance – it is for Boards and SMTs to work together to consider how this will be done.

Additional information: Fundraising Regulator Summary & Code Changes (pdf)

Creating and leading a Great Fundraising Organisation

Do you work for a Great Fundraising Organisation? Not any great fundraising organisation… but a Great Fundraising Organisation.

For the purpose of the academic study, “The Great Fundraising Report,” Profs. Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang from the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth, defined Great Fundraising Organisations as those charities, NGOs and non-profits that:

  • Achieved significant growth in voluntary income, typically 200 percent to 400 percent over the middle term, being five to ten years.
  • Sustained the increased levels of income.
  • Drove this income from a database of donors who were mission driven.

The object of the study was to identify behavioural factors that created a Great Fundraising Organisation. The project is supported by ongoing, informal action research on over 300 case studies worldwide. We particularly studied organisations that outperformed organisations with similar markets, missions and projects. We found three key areas in which the Great Fundraising Organisations out-perform their competitors.


In the Great Fundraising Organisations, the whole organisation is fired up and inspired by the fundraising programme. The fundraising function is not in a silo, or seen as a subsidiary to the other departments.
In organisations that fail to achieve great fundraising, the fundraising function is deemed to be funding the organisation’s budget, and propositions are dictated by other departments based on fiscal need. In the Great Fundraising Organisations, the organisation unites around a mission-based proposition, meaning that fundraising and other departments are trying to solve a problem together. They understand that fundraising is about a dream of the organisation, not the organisation itself.

Also, the Great Fundraising Organisations:

  • Are all capable of donor-centred thinking – understanding the rational and emotional needs of their donors as well as those of their service users.
  • Have a learning culture about fundraising. They use the “test and learn” scientific method to create a culture of constant improvement, rather than seek certainty of outcomes before commencing a surge in fundraising growth.
  • Train and educate the whole organisation on the importance and principles of fundraising.


The Great Fundraising Organisations do not suffer from internal conflict about the need to invest short-term in fundraising to drive middle-term growth. They are capable of prioritising fundraising investment, and other departments understand there will be a time lag between fundraising investment and increased programmes expenditure budgets.

Also, the Great Fundraising Organisations:

  • Train their boards, executive teams and managers in the principles of fundraising investment.
  • Clearly understand the large returns available, if the period allowed is long enough.
  • Give their boards confidence to invest, and to roll out when tests are successful


The Great Fundraising Organisations base their brand on “the problem we are trying to solve”. They brand the mission, not the organisation. They focus their communications less on “trust” (i.e. organisation credibility) than on “belief” (i.e. the dream of solving a problem).

They understand that, first and foremost, people give emotionally and that their emotional decisions are backed up by concise rational arguments. They understand that different people give for different reasons and are able to meet these different segments of need.

The key difference between the Great Fundraising Organisations and their competitors can be summed up as the ability of the board and executive teams to lead in the emotional space.

Also, the Great Fundraising Organisations:

  • Are brilliant at communicating in a simple, emotive manner with integrity. They are master storytellers.
  • Test all communications continuously.
  • Can navigate the cultural difference between control of emotion and logical excellence in service delivery, with the fact that fundraising is in the emotions business.
  • Give all staff in all departments permission to tell the truth well in communications, and to communicate the problem as well as the work of the organisation. They overcome internal conflicts about such activation of emotion.
  • Understand the power of an emotional brand.
  • Overcome the fear of investment through the scientific method.
  • Understand the emotional needs of their donors.
  • Focus on their most emotionally powerful propositions.

Most Great Fundraising Organisations seemed to create a growth surge by:

  • Creating a new dream: a fresh approach to communicating the problem they are trying to solve.
  • Uniting the organisation by involving them in the creation of the communications.
  • Testing, then investing.

Keeping focussed and simple is key to all leadership. Keeping emotionally focused and simple is key to fundraising leadership.

50 percent of this work is internal.

[Editor’s note: Alan will be presenting a special Great Fundraising Masterclass  12-13 September in Cape Town, South Africa. You can learn more and register here. You can request a copy of “The Great Fundraising Report” at alanclayton.co.uk]

Should there be more mergers in the NGO sector?

I remember a particularly lively IOF conference debate really clearly, even though it was 20 years ago. The argument thrust itself around the theme that “Charities exist to put themselves out of business”. It’s a compelling argument, but yet so much of our sector’s reporting is set against growth.

Of course, growth (operational services, fundraising income, brand recognition) can be (and usually is) a strong indicator that the charity is doing more for its beneficiaries, and a well-governed and organised charity will be able to demonstrate the difference or the impact they are making to the lives of their beneficiaries as they grow.

But continual growth is hard. Hard when the very essence of public trust in charities is being scrutinized. Hard when localism, populism, globalism (and probably several other “isms”) are doing strange things indeed to the very notion and role of care and nurture. And hard when fundraising investment budgets are being squeezed, wrung out and left to dry for a more settled day. It’s obvious many highly talented fundraising directors are scratching heads on how to achieve the same sustainable, long-term income demands with less available resource in an unbaiting competitive market.

So, is it time for mergers to be back firmly on the table? Should they be part of a charity’s forward-thinking strategy? Pooling resources, making efficiencies? The data analysis of past mergers presents logical sound arguments for doing so. And this has been backed up with a decade of policy comment, advice and guidance. Mergers make sense, the guidance says. So why are there still so few, just 50 or so each year out of a total register of 163,000 registered charities?

Back in 2004, I project managed the merger to create CLIC Sargent, a bringing together of two successful (and both fast growing) children’s cancer charities. Important factors were at play. Both charities complemented (rather than competed against) each other – differing operational services and fundraising disciplines, meaning the actual mechanical process of merger was relatively straightforward. The jury’s out on whether complementary or competing services should drive organisations together. I’m not sure it matters, as long as a logical (and more efficient) outcome of providing better services for less can be reached.

But most important for the successful CLIC Sargent merger was the mindset of trustees and staff alike. From the outset, the merger was completely framed around the needs of children and their families – our internal and external merger communications had the laser-vision focus of why merger was the right thing to do for children with cancer. Backed up with proper, robust commissioned research laying out the benefits for beneficiaries.

Otherwise, human dynamics, personalities, (basically just people) potentially get in the way of doing the right strategic thing. Personal attachment to the respective charity’s brand has been the stumbling block for too many failed mergers. It was almost thus with CLIC Sargent – an 11th-hour co-joining of name brands was the obvious (perhaps clunky?) solution. Volunteers (whether as chair, trustee, donor or operations) have a deep-seated identity with the charity’s brand, its ethos, its culture. A potential merger disrupts and threatens that deeply personal bond, and an emotional response can often prevail.  For staff, there is a fear of losing one’s job or position. Particularly so at a senior level, when jobs are likely to be merged. A CEO or senior management team usually have no financial incentive to counter lack of future job security and so many will be wary.

A merger has significant process and governance activities; but it’s the “hearts and minds” messaging that delivers success. Taking ALL stakeholders on a compelling, confident journey. This is the key to successful mergers – when everyone intrinsically knows merger is the right thing to do. The heart and the head working together.

This is the absolute reason therefore for good data and evidence around any potential merger. Good charities work hard to ensure they can show a clear link to the work they do to the difference they make to the lives of their beneficiaries.

We need to do the same for the merger agenda. Our charity leaders need to be bolder in presenting the rational reasons for exploring potential merger, but as part of the overall, compelling, charity’s story. Our charity sector thrives on effective partnerships, and a potential merger should be seen as one such partnership model.

The increasing pressures on charities (and especially on fundraising income) give the sector a bold opportunity to explore the potential for mergers and formal partnership working. Doing so will ensure we are being true to meeting the needs of our beneficiaries, rather than just focusing on a growth agenda.

Shadow boxing with 'donor fatigue'

Often at non-profit forums, I get asked about ways to address “donor fatigue”.

But I don’t believe that donor fatigue is a real thing. It is a diplomatic way the media devised for saying that donors are fed up with incessant appeals by charities! Many fundraisers have jumped on that bandwagon and used it as a way of justifying poor performance in taking care of the supporters of their cause.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that motivate individuals or decision makers in organisations to become donors or supporters:

Urgency of need and affinity to the cause: The urgency of a situation moves people to take positive action, as seen over and over again with disaster response giving. Organisations can build affinity by helping donors understand why a particular cause is vital and the consequences to the community, country or to the world, without the services the organisation delivers.

A clear request: In surveys done across many countries and cultures, one of the main reasons why people do not give is always found to be “because they were never asked” or, when they were asked, “the ask was not clear enough to help them respond”.

A relationship with the cause: As the population gets more sophisticated, people increasingly are engaging with organisations that practice transparency, authentic storytelling and technical savvy outreach. They not only give money, but also volunteer and lend the force of their own social networks for causes they believe in.

Being part of the solution: My 29 years of experience with building donor relationships have shown that donors have had enough of the “we have a problem and hence we need your support” appeal. They are looking for how they can be part of the solution, rather than being asked to fix a problem.

Though not exhaustive, I hope this list provides insight into the donor psyche. Hence, my appeal to fundraisers is to stop worrying about this concept of donor fatigue and focus on how we can build “donor energy”. Engage people in a manner where they are not asked to sacrifice but are provided with a meaningful opportunity to impact our community. This helps to convert the “vicious cycle” of donor attrition into a “virtuous cycle” of donor referrals.

In an environment where there is a proliferation of causes and fundraising methodologies, organisations successful in fundraising and resource mobilisation don’t just motivate people – they inspire them to take action. They invest energy in the early stages as well as throughout the relationship by engaging people with the cause, building trust and making them feel part of the solution. This is reflected in their online and offline communications, be it their appeals, acknowledgement receipts, thank-you letters or their personal contacts with current and potential donors.

Another key component is to have a spirit of enterprise and innovation in fundraising methods. Alfred Edward Perlman was quoted in The New York Times way back on 5 July 1958 as saying, “After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over.”

If this holds true, it is high time we look very carefully or with suspicion at some of our fundraising methods. One case in point might be street collection. Not only is it an inefficient way of raising funds in most cases, but more importantly, it does not help the donor or the nonprofit organisation to get to know each other and develop a relationship. Is it time to throw it away?

We need to uplift our supporters such that they get an addiction for our cause. Once we do, we’ll no longer have to worry about donor fatigue.

3 truths and 1 lie about online donors

New data from Target Analytics, a division of Blackbaud, reveals key insights into online donors. The findings are based on analysis of online and offline giving data from 16 large national nonprofits in the United States during 2016 and represents more than 6.5 million donors. These organizations participate in a donorCentrics Internet Benchmarking Group.

The giving data examines demographic and donation data for donors that only gave online, donors that only gave offline, and donors that made both online and offline gifts in 2016. What emerges is a clearer picture about online donors, and there is an opportunity to separate fact from fiction.

Truth: Online donors are younger

During 2016, 45 percent of donors giving only online were younger than 55 years old compared to just 21 percent of offline donors. By comparison, only 29 percent of online-only donors were 65 or older while 58 percent of offline-only donors are represented in these age brackets. Consider for a moment that according to Target Analytics, the average age of a U.S. donor in 2016 was 62 years old. What about millennials? Approximately 14 percent of online-only donors were millennials compared to 6 percent of offline-only donors in 2016. We also know from the data that donors giving online only gave more than their offline only counterparts at every age level.

 This is not to say that “older” donors don’t give online. This is a shadow belief among many nonprofits that believe their donors won’t make online donations. More than half of online donors are 55 years or older. Seventy percent of donors that give online and offline are also 55 years or older. The good news from all of this is that online donors help to bring the average age of a nonprofit’s donor base down, but it can still be a very viable channel for older donors too.

Truth: Online donors have higher incomes

The data analysis reveals that online-only donors tend to have higher household incomes than offline-only donors. Approximately 42 percent of online-only donors had household incomes over $100,000 in 2016 compared to 28 percent of offline-only donors. Once again, we need to take into consideration multichannel donors. Thirty-five percent of donors with household incomes above $100,000 made online and offline donations in 2016.

While it is true that online donors have higher incomes, it is important to distinguish income from assets. We know that a significant number of donors 65 years and older live on fixed incomes but have higher asset levels than younger donors. This tends to skew income comparisons with older donors across giving channels. These older donors may have lower household incomes that influence giving from disposable income, but their assets play a larger role in planned and major giving.

Truth: Online donors are less loyal

Online donors are younger and have higher incomes, but they are less loyal than offline-only donors. (Two out of three isn’t bad.) First-year donor retention rates for online donors are significantly lower than those of offline-only donors. Donors who were new in 2015 and made only offline gifts have higher first-year retention rates at every age group than online-only donors. Even millennials who gave offline only had dramatically higher first-year retention rate compared to their digital native counterparts.

The sharp drop in first-year retention rates in online-only donors is something Target Analytics has observed for more than a decade now. It’s a trend that often has more questions than answers. Are online-only donors inherently less loyal or does it have more to do with the stewardship they receive compared to offline donors? Do fragmented online giving experiences result in lower retention rates? The visible difference in retention rates probably has more to do with nonprofits pretending online donors are different than offline donors in the first place.

Lie: Online donors are better than offline donors

This might sound true, until you actually look at the data. But nonprofits need to be careful not to confuse the channel of engagement with the channel of the transaction. Online versus offline is a false choice. The reality is that a successful donor engagement strategy involves both online and offline giving. The ideal donor is engaged through a multichannel approach.

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote that “Single Channel Communication is Dead” and yet many nonprofits are still chasing online zombies. In 2010, first-year retention for multichannel donors was 51 percent compared to 30 percent for offline donors and 22 percent for online donors. Since then, the retention rate of multichannel donors has increased another 10 percent, while both online and offline have remained about the same. The best donors are those that give through both channels – not one or the other.

The demographics of online donors are very encouraging, but the retention rates should give everyone in the nonprofit sector some pause. It’s an expensive and vicious cycle to acquire new online donors only to lose 70 percent to 80 percent of them in a year. A focus on donor engagement, stewardship and retention should make use of multiple channels.

It has been nearly 20 years since the first online gifts began flowing to nonprofit organizations. In that time, online giving has grown tremendously. But nonprofits also need to consider that less than 10 percent of all giving happens online. The transition from offline to online is likely to be more glacial than tidal. Giving on mobile devices is certainly accelerating this transition. Armed with the right data, nonprofits can make better decisions about both their online and offline donor engagement strategies.


Meet the donors: Some ‘who’d-have-thought-it?’ insights from listening to a few real supporters

At the UK Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention last week, I found myself chairing a big-room session called “Meet the Donors”. Tasked to address a massive subject – what do donors really think about fundraisers and how they ply their trade? – the five brave donors on our panel were obliged to face a large audience of fundraisers at the end of a long, hot day.

Daphne, Carol, Eden, Rachel and Deborah ­– real, proper donors each invited by one of the charities they support – all discharged their task with great charm, wit and perception. Though I’d been parachuted in quite late to chair the thing, I found the job delightful and a revelation, as well as much more difficult than it looks when the Dimblebys do it. It was a great session because the donors were so articulate and clear, and the respectful, attentive audience was so eager to hear them. And while often challenging, even critical, what these donors said seemed to go down well with our audience, I suspect because it was quickly evident that these donors really care.

OK, I have to qualify the second part of that second-last sentence, just a bit.

Some of the IoF volunteers (constant stalwarts of these events and generally reliable, in my experience), reported that some fundraisers left the session as it was starting, saying they didn’t wish to be told how to think and behave by a random panel of donors. Only a few, I’m sure: the exceptions that prove the rule. Later, several in the audience expressed surprise that such sentiments can still be found anywhere. Perhaps it’s proof, were it needed, that there’s none so blind as those who will not see. Their loss. The majority who stayed were given a treat.

I wasn’t able to capture all that much of the conversation because for most of our hour I was struggling to maintain the impression that I had some control over the flow and direction of audience questions and the panel’s responses. So, I’m paraphrasing hugely. Some of these donors’ issues and concerns came up again and again. Here’s what I noted from what they said:

No pressure, ever. “I wouldn’t like my granny to be pressurized”, said one. Grandads too, I’m sure. No surprise there.

“I want to make a real difference”. “Tell me about the difference I’m making”. The number of times this came up was a real thrill. It really is what matters most to donors.

“Did my gift get through”? Seemed fundraisers aren’t always great at answering this, for some on the panel.

Feedback. This is how they see that difference. They all want communications that tell them what their support achieves. See Daphne’s poem, below.

Integrity. Do the right thing. Always. Show your passion, but be led by your values.

Respect. And sensitivity. No explanation needed.

Listen. That’s invariably part of respect, of course. But it’s worth stressing.

Send less but better. Only intelligent communications. “We want to be informed and involved, but not too much”. Design it right and make it good. One of the donors even stressed the need to get grammar and punctuation right – I could have leapt in the air! An impact report from the Children’s Society came in for particular appreciation. Again, the message seems to be, “Show me the difference we’re making, don’t talk about how great the charity is or how it’s structured.” They want to know how their donations change lives – who’d have thought, hmm?

Know me and show me you know me.

Premiums came in for a bashing, even though many on the panel were unaware that’s what they’re called. “Don’t send me stuff” seemed to be the message. Daphne said passionately that she’s got so many sticky address labels she could spend all her time sticking them on envelopes and would still never be finished. Premiums, raffles and prizes diminish donating.

Emotion came up a lot, mostly positively because all the panel confirmed their initial support for their causes had come through personal emotional connection. But I felt at times emotion was talked of quite fearfully. I’m not sure any of the panel specifically called for very responsible use of emotion, but that was the gist (I may be biased, as the use and misuse of emotion is the theme of my CDE project no 6).

Transparency and accountability. When donors discuss such things, they tend to talk about being open, clear, honest and accessible.

Admin and salaries. We didn’t go into it in detail, but concerns were raised that these donors too don’t want their gifts lost on high admin and salary costs. The panel though were not unrealistic in their expectations and appreciated that prudent investment in effective administration is essential if gifts are to reach beneficiaries efficiently. And investment in fundraising makes sense if it grows the cake. A case of needing to tell the truth, and tell it well.

There was more for sure, but I failed to note it. And while saying thank you nicely didn’t feature in the donors’ responses, I think understanding of it was implicit.

Daphne’s poem

At the end of the session one of our panel asked if she might read a short poem she’d written. Daphne clearly has fundraiser appeal, which prompted some to give her her own hashtags:  #teamDaphne and #getDaphnebackontv (she was recently on BBC TV’s “The One Show”). Daphne was mentioned in lots of tweets from the session, with great affection.

Some lines from Daphne’s poem seem to me to contain an insightful route to improving all donors’ experience.

“…I can afford something here, a little there,
But I cannot afford to spend my days
Coping with this endless stream of despair.”

Indeed not. No donor should be left feeling like that, but I fear far too many are. Feedback. You made a difference. We need to get miles better at telling donors what their interventions achieve so they feel good, not bad. That’s the 5Fs – fundraisers have to be famous for frequent, fast, fabulous feedback.

Thank you, Daphne, Carol, Eden, Rachel and Deborah, for your commitment, courage, warmth and the lessons you shared. Here’s hoping that most people reading this will be able to figure out quite a lot of what it is that donors want from us. Those who were there certainly could. And guess what, it’s not that far from what we’ve always known they wanted.

What’s truly incredible is that fundraisers now don’t have to ignore this, because it’s actually been said by donors. Hooray! Extraordinary! Who’d have thought?

For more on the donor-based approach to raising money see the project reports from the Commission on the Donor Experience. They can be found in summary here. The full reports are being added progressively to sofii.org as I type.


How to get from good intentions to a great supporter experience

The Commission on the Donor Experience (CDE) officially launched last week. Its premise is give supporters a great experience and they will give more and for longer. So:

1. Do we believe that?
2. Aren’t we already giving supporters great experiences?
3. What makes a great experience?

Does a great experience equate to better performance, value and retention?



Before you even consider the overwhelming evidence, consider the absurdity of the counter-argument.

Is anyone seriously making the case that giving supporters a deliberately crappy experience is a successful strategy? Every sector has its fringe lunatics. But it’s a safe bet ours aren’t reading this (because they surely don’t read at all).

But note “deliberately” is italicized. Many believe they give supporters a great experience. But they’re as much to blame for our sector’s mess as those who knowingly don’t.

Why? Read on…

Aren’t we already giving supporters great experiences?



Or, to be generous, if it ever happened it was by accident not design. Our sector has no best practises, only bad habits. The worst of which is ignoring, or presuming to have answers for, two fundamental questions:

1. Why do people support?
2. Why do they stop?

Regardless of cause/channel/product etc. we habitually respond with a simplistic formula that addresses neither question “…people give because they’re asked”. Meanwhile acquisition gets harder and more expensive, whilst we lose support faster than we find it. So clearly we’re missing something.

That “something” is an empirical and applied answer to what separates those who say yes from those who say no. Not to mention maybe there’s more than one reason for saying yes, requiring more than one journey.

This is where we come unstuck. Because, with a handful of shining exceptions, there isn’t a charity on the face of the Earth that has an answer that’s worked. Instead we perpetuate another bad habit – endlessly analysing who did what, when and how, as if any of those could ever give us the answer that mattered: Why?

If you go down that road, as many have or are about to, you’ll inevitably find two things:

1. A whole host of apparent differences (i.e. demographics, behaviour, tenure etc.) from which to create shiny new segments.
2. Zero evidence on which to create new journeys for these segments. Because the seeming differences are irrelevant; they don’t cause behaviour, they’re just statistical noise.

Unless we break these bad habits, our sector will grow increasingly irrelevant to those from whom it asks support, and ineffective to those it exists to support.

Why? Read on…

What makes a great experience?


Uncovering and acting on three pieces of data that don’t exist on your CRM:

1. Supporter commitment (knowing exactly the strength of their relationship and what causes it)
2. Supporter identity (knowing exactly why someone supports your cause)
3. Supporter experience (knowing exactly what is going on, in the moment, for your supporters, and acting on it to improve their experience)

The challenge with these headings is it’s very easy to read them and feel confident you’re doing them. Jargon that seemingly pertains to these has pervaded, and been practised, for decades. But so have low to no net growth and high supporter attrition.

Clearly, success depends on more than simplistic, generic soundbites about “emotion”, “engagement”, “insert another empty conference platitude here”, etc. If it was that easy everyone would be engaged, we wouldn’t be in such a mess, and the CDE would never have needed to be created.

That said a number of charities have proved beyond all doubt that getting an empirical and applied answer on supporter Commitment, Identity and Experience is the foundation stone of a radically different supporter journey yielding radical increases in performance, value and retention. And that journey is going in a very different direction than the one the rest of the sector is on.

Why? Read on…

If you give donors a great experience, they will give more and give for longer

This, in my view, is self-evident.

Launched earlier this week, The Commission on the Donor Experience is based on this premise. Its 28 detailed reports are available free online. I hope everyone in the sector will at least read the 6Ps document, the summary of the project summaries, for that sets out how fundraising will change.

The Commission’s reports are utterly different from a manual of current best practice. Let me tell you why: They are about people, not activities.

Much (by no means all) fundraising starts with the charity. It does really important work, and that work requires money. So the charity employs fundraisers. They organise activities to raise money from donors. In many cases the donor is delighted with the activity, so all is well.

But not always.

So turn that thinking through 90°. Start with the donors. Talk to them. Why do they support your charity rather than another one? What is their motivation? What do they want from their support of your charity? What are their aspirations and their needs? What do they dislike?

From all this, infer how you might give them a better experience. The plan you create from the first view may be the same as the one you create from the second view. But I doubt it. If I can convince you of that, you will do the right thing. Some examples.

The telephone

The Fundraising Regulator’s guidance says you “MUST NOT ask for a donation more than three times during that call”.

I am embarrassed that this needs to be an enforceable standard. It is so out of tune with the donor experience. This is about current practice. It is not about giving donors a great experience. Telephone fundraising is positioned as an activity. In many cases, the sole purpose is to get the donor to give a gift, or upgrade a regular gift. In some cases, financial results are posted on a blackboard. So, to prevent undue pressure, the Regulator says “three asks maximum”.

Start instead with looking at the call from the donor’s perspective, and giving her a great experience. Thank her, sincerely for her giving. Know about her current giving, and her giving history. Show her you know, and make her feel good about it. Tell her what her donations, together with others, have achieved. Sense her mood.

You might not ask for a donation at all. But you will leave her content, happy with her support of your charity and, importantly, pre-disposed to give more/again, when it suits her. And so make her inclined to support you for longer.

If, after the above, you ask her, and she says, clearly, “No, thank you, not at the moment”, you shouldn’t even consider asking again.   Not even a second time.

But neither should you cut the conversation short. The length of the call should be as the donor wishes. It might go on for two minutes after she says no. That isn’t the point. The point is her experience.

At the other extreme, if the conversation is positive, but meandering, and you ask for a gift but she doesn’t respond or is non-committal but wants to continue the conversation, I could well imagine a conversation where you might ask five times, without the donor feeling any undue pressure.

An “ask” (I hate the word) is not one-size-fits-all. It should be part of the conversation, part of the relationship.

My mantra: A donor should always feel better after the communication than before it. That is far more important than “three asks”.

The telephone is an extraordinary tool that lets us engage one-to-one with donors in real time. Pay telephone staff as you would other fundraisers; they are in communication with donors throughout their working day, unlike most of your fundraisers. Throw away scripts. Produce carefully crafted guidance notes that start with the feelings and thoughts of the donor. Empower the staff.

Corporate fundraising

Much corporate fundraising just sees companies as entities. A good fundraiser will find out about the company’s policies, its history of charitable support, etc.

But companies are made up of individuals: The decision makers re charitable support. The CSR team, if there is one. The directors, especially the managing director and chair. And the managers and staff. And even the customers.

Start with building relationships between key individuals in the company and the charity. Find out whether any of your existing corporate supporters or trustees or major donors, have friends or contacts within the company. With a substantial corporate supporter, get your CEO to work to build a relationship with the CEO of the company.

Once you have identified the key individuals, organise project visits, sandwich lunches with the CEO or maybe the services director or the finance director, depending on their interests.

Show the key individuals the impact of the partnership. Tell the individuals how important the company’s partnership is. Most important of all, give the individuals a good experience.

This all stems from a focus on corporate partnerships that focuses on the individual donor experience.

You will have far more experience than I which you can bring. But start by thinking of companies as a complex network of individuals, not a single entity.


Again, many fundraisers regard trusts as entities. Often with complex application procedures.   Many fundraisers I have spoken with regard “trusts” as the problem, not the fundraisers.

But again, turn your thinking through 90°. Trusts are made up of trustees, individuals who give freely of their time to try to ensure their founders’ wishes are met with the money held in trust. Does anyone really believe that any trustees deliberately go out of their way to make life difficult for applicants?

So, invite administrators of trusts to a group sandwich lunch with your CEO to find out more about the charity’s work. Encourage them to talk amongst themselves. (They all know of each other, but rarely meet.) Again, find out if you already have links to individual trustees. Use your insiders to engage them. All administrators and all individual trustees will insist they, as individuals, have no influence on the trustees’ corporate decision. It isn’t true.

Once you have a grant, don’t just say thank you, however profusely. Follow all I have said re companies above. Suppose a trust gives you a grant over three years. Keep the individuals engaged, in the way that they choose, so that at the end of the three years, they will want to support for another three years.

Be creative. Use your experience. Start with the individual.


Ken Burnett has produced the most extraordinary project on the use of emotion. Take half a day, and immerse yourself in it.

But, in two paragraphs:

Present the need powerfully. Engage the emotions.   Make the reader/viewer want to help, to give, and, having given, feel good that she has helped make the world a better place. If nurtured, she is likely to become a loyal donor, She has had a good experience.

Present the need shockingly. As shocking as possible. People may give, but from the emotion of guilt. They are giving to make the problem go away. Even if it “works” in the short term, it won’t create long-term support. The donor will not have had a good experience

The reality

I have just touched the surface. The CDE has produced 28 projects. 526 recommendations. 250 case studies. An extraordinary body of work, created by hundreds of experienced professionals. The sector coming together, like nothing before.

But it’s nowhere near as daunting as it sounds. Log on. Pick a topic. Read the summary. Between four and ten pages. Then stop. You will have gained a lot. The essence of thinking on that project, with key principles and recommendations. If you are enticed, read the whole project. Or jump to another project that intrigues you. Or follow one of the many links from one project to another.

It is an encyclopaedia, not a novel.


The purpose of the Commission is to transform fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is an extraordinary aspiration. It will take years, decades even, to make real.

But it must start with a belief by each individual in the sector that if we give donors a great experience, they will give more and give for longer. If you don’t believe that, then the Commission’s report is not for you.

If, however, you believe (as we do) that it is self-evident, then please approach our report with an open mind. Embrace it fully. Or implement the recommendations one at a time. Or somewhere, wherever, in between. Ideally, decide, as a whole organisation — fundraisers, CEO/SMT and trustees: What new promise will you make to donors? And tell them how, stage by stage, you will make it real.

Please don’t just ignore it.   There is too much distilled wisdom here.

Elements of effective storytelling: Empathy, action and the message

The Resource Alliance team is in the throes of IFC Asia! The conference officially starts today, but most of us have been either traveling or hunkered down at the conference hotel since mid-week last week.

It’s pretty amazing!

Tul Pinkaew

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week. Today, please enjoy this podcast from The Resource Alliance India, where our colleague Shivraj Parshad interviews Tul Pinkaew, founder and director of strategy at the media consultancy SideKick Co. in Thailand

Trained as a journalist, Tul is a great believer in the power of stories to connect people and change the world. He’s conducting a workshop at IFC Asia on using effective storytelling to build your supporter base.

Donor recognition should be more than you think it is

It’s not about the gift; it’s about the impact of their cumulative contribution.

I’ve been pondering supporter recognition recently, and wondering whether we do this nearly enough, never mind well enough. And by recognition, I’m not talking thanking, which can be pretty transactional, in response to a gift (and about which I’ve written before – Why Asking and Thanking Donors is All Wrong).

And I’m not talking about the sort of recognition that we do in relation to significant donations: honour-roll boards of major donors in reception areas, naming opportunities, of rooms, projects, entire buildings or institutions. Or something as simple as a plaque on the back of a seat, recognising people’s part in a theatre’s refurbishment.

No, here I’m talking about marking moments in someone’s on-going support, an acknowledgement of their cumulative contribution; or marking a moment in their life, that at the same time lets them know you are thinking about them. Which can’t be bad, can it? (There’s a great example of this from Greenpeace USA, here.)

Anniversary recognition is the sort of thing that comes up in brainstorms from time to time – sending supporters anniversary cards. But it rarely seems to happen, and the idea isn’t much more than an anniversary thank-you card. On the evidence of one, in three decades of being a donor, I don’t recall getting any, though as a fundraising director, I’ve made sure we’ve sent some out.

A couple of things have got me thinking about this. Firstly, having just said I didn’t recall getting any, I’ve actually been on the receiving end of a couple of recognition initiatives recently and seen the potential in a couple more.

UK Blood Donor Service
A few years ago I started giving blood again. I’d been a donor as a student, but had to stop because of the amount of travel I was doing (or more accurately, the places work was taking me). A couple of months ago I got a little package in the post for making my tenth donation, with a certificate, a little lapel pin, a new gold donor card. Which together with the texts I get telling me when and where my blood is being used, adds up to quite a powerful and encouraging acknowledgement.

Change.org annual feedback email
And at the start of the year, probably like many of you, I got a round-up email from Change.org, telling me about all the campaigns I’d signed up to support and what progress had been made (or not, in the case of some). I’ll be honest, I didn’t remember half of them, and I can’t think of any of them now – such is the fleeting nature of click-tivism. And yet I remember getting my personalised report, and I remember how it made me feel. I was a bit surprised how many petitions I’d engaged in, when I imagined I just deleted them in the rush to manage email overload. And more importantly, I was surprised too at the warm feeling I had getting that email. I’m a fundraiser, I know that was the point of it, but it was reassuring to know it worked!

The second thing that got me thinking was simply our current fundraising environment. There really couldn’t be a better time to look at something we should all have been doing better all along. The crisis in fundraising in the UK over the last couple of years has highlighted the pressing need to do so much better at engaging supporters. And part of that has to be doing so much better at communicating impact, the difference made, a sense of progress. Cause after cause, people report not really seeing things getting better, and that’s probably because we’re not telling them enough.

I remember a senior FR director telling me a few years ago he had 200,000 donors who had done absolutely nothing for the charity since signing up to regular payment of £2 per month. He wasn’t belittling their regular gift, more reflecting on the conundrum of investing in supporter care.  If they carry on giving regardless of getting communications, and don’t respond further, how do you justify spending money on supporter communication in a culture focused on return on investment and costs?

The truth is, often we don’t. Instead we worry about reminding them they are giving at all, for fear that if they remember, they’ll stop! We see their passivity as an asset. That really doesn’t say much about our self-confidence in inspiring and engaging people with positive news, does it? “Sleeper’” donors, committed or not, get taken out of mailing or newsletter programmes to save money. They drop off our radar, taken for granted, and we become invisible to them.

And here are the other couple of examples that got me thinking.

Mines Advisory Group ‘thankathon’
As a trustee for Mines Advisory Group, I recently helped with a “thankathon,” when staff and trustees took to the phones for a day to call donors. My call list included supporters who had been giving various amounts for many years – some just £10 a month – and it took me aback to see that some of them, giving for 15-20 years, had given a few thousand pounds in that time. We were calling just to thank them for their support, but I couldn’t help but mention the huge amounts their gifts had added up to. A couple of people were genuinely moved to hear that. No one baulked at it, or suggested they regretted it. Not on the phone, anyway! So are these cumulative or anniversary milestone-specific moments to do more with acknowledging what a donor’s giving has achieved?

Oxfam supporter app
Oxfam’s award-winning supporter app gives you access to regular update videos and content. But it also connects to its database and, once registered, you can see your entire giving history, and change your gift level and communication preferences. I found out that I’d made my first donation to Oxfam in 1987 – 30 years ago – and yes, that my monthly gifts over the years added up to rather a lot. Does Oxfam know? It hasn’t ever said so. I know what they’ll be worrying about. Will I gulp at the amount I’ve given over all those years, and stop? Or not? In my case, I was rather embarrassed to see I hadn’t increased my monthly gift in 20 years. I’ve been one of those sleeper donors! I’ll have to put that right … Obviously, Oxfam will be watching to see what people do, and that will guide them on how proactive to be in recognising milestones.

I am certain that people worry where their money is going when they don’t hear enough about the difference or progress being made with it.  We need to use every opportunity to tell that story, and not just focus on the immediate recognition of a donation.

What’s your experience? Are you already doing more on recognition, or do you see it as a nice-to-have, or a waste of money? Whether you do it or don’t, how have you made that decision, and what have you learnt? If you’ve got experience to share, please do.

PS. The UK fundraising and research think tank nfpSynergy also just released a free report on thanking with some great examples of how to do it well.

5 ways to build a positive culture at your organisation

I’m often asked how I created our culture at Blakely. I should probably take it as a compliment (since it’s usually a positive reference!), but I actually find it a perplexing question. I certainly didn’t do it alone, and every team member old and new helps to protect it and evolve it each and every day. But I also recognize that as president of the company, I own it and I can single-handedly f&*k it up. 

Culture is set by leadership. More specifically, culture is set by the leader. If you have a crap culture and you are the leader, then own up: The problem is you. It could be due to a lack of transparency, or it could be toxicity in the workplace, an unclear vision, old-school policies, treating employees like they owe you something… I could go on.

But to me, it’s pretty simple. And I don’t mean pizza lunches and social events. That’s all great, but that’s the superficial stuff.

Here are – in my humble opinion – five of the most critical elements of creating a positive culture.

Work toward a vision together
For some people, a job is a job. But I think that’s also the case when you haven’t set a clear vision and brought your team along on the journey with you. Whether that’s inviting employees to help set the vision, or input on the vision, your team members understanding their role in making great things happen (their personal role as Susan the human being, not their role as Susan the accountant) is so important. If they see themselves as critical and feel their efforts are valued (which they are  organisations don’t generally do well without good people) then they will work their butts off and love every minute of it. Except maybe Friday at 4; they’re human after all!

Don’t be a know-it-all
Be honest if you don’t have a clue, or you yourself are trying to figure stuff out. You’d be amazed what you get in return when your team knows that you know you aren’t a know-it-all. (Newsflash: They already know.) People value honesty and authenticity more than they value you knowing everything. It puts them on a more level playing field with you and gives you an opportunity to connect and build together. Plus, if you were smart in the first place, you’ve already surrounded yourself with people who are WAY SMARTER than you anyways.

Show genuine appreciation for a job well done
I was struck by a new team member’s reaction to me thanking them for going the extra mile in sorting out some process issues we were having. She had come from a larger agency and when asked for her thoughts, she immediately dived into helping to solve the problem. I would expect that from any team member, but the shocking part was her reaction to my gratitude. She was gracious and made sure to name all of the other people who were part of it and then went on to say that she couldn’t believe how nice everyone was and that where she came from no one ever got a thank-you for a job well done. Ummm… isn’t that just being a decent human?

Oh, and the flip side? Don’t mince words when people mess up – just tell them, help them, and move on. It doesn’t do anybody any favours to walk on eggshells.

Treat your team members like adults
If you have strict, ridiculous policies that tell people when to come in to work, when to leave, when to work from home, when not to work from home and what to wear to work – well, good luck. Resentment will just build up. Yes, you are going to get the odd team member who abuses the freedom, or doesn’t quite get it, but deal with those situations individually. Deal with those colleagues with respect and compassion, but also be firm and clear with the expectations. The exceptions shouldn’t make the rules.

Love your team more than your donors
Invest in them, talk to them, open up to them, and let them be open with you. Open and honest communication is key.  And remember, your team and their lives are more important than the organization. Yep, you heard that right. My son’s award at school is more important than me heading to a client meeting. The people you employ have lives, and you need to give them the time and space to live them. Sometimes it’s for something fun like an award, and other times it’s for things far more difficult like illness or personal issues. Every situation is different and needs to be dealt with uniquely, but you need to reassure everyone that they, and what they are going through, is far more important than work. You’d be surprised what you get in return.

Whenever I talk about this I hear, “Well, not everyone is a great employee and what if you get someone who just doesn’t get it?” Listen, it happens. We can make bad hires, and we can even have great team members who change and become not so great. Deal with it. Help them get on board or get them off the bus. Otherwise they will erode the culture. Period.

And if you are the leader of your organization, then you ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO ALL THESE THINGS!  This isn’t the managers’ job, and it’s certainly not HR’s.

It’s your job. Culture is yours to own. Yours to create. Yours to protect. Yours to lose

Stop trying to attract great applicants with boring job adverts

It always strikes me as such a paradox: Those of us working in the charity sector find our jobs inspiring, meaningful and transformative. And yet, we as a sector struggle to attract high-calibre individuals to fill fundraising roles. How can this discrepancy exist?

While there are lots of potential answers to this question, ranging from the recognition of fundraising as a viable career to more philosophical issues around what we as a society value  and define as work success, let me propose a very practical, doable solution that anyone in a position for the responsibility of hiring a fundraiser can implement today: Rewrite the job advert

I’ve recently been reading a lot of job descriptions. A lot. As a maternity cover position draws to a close, I’ve been searching for my next role. So I’m scouring the charity recruitment websites and sorting daily job opportunities emails sent by recruiters. I am looking at a range of roles and for a variety of organisations. By and large, they are all incredibly boring, uninspiring and blend into a homogenous pile of indistinguishable Word documents. They do not reflect the creativity and fun that fundraising requires and creates, the thrill of bringing on board a new donor or partnership, and of course the deeply meaningful work that fundraising facilitates. Here are three ways to overcome this:

Remove jargon

We know that compelling donor reports need to be stripped of industry jargon, and yet our job descriptions are full of them. Let’s describe our roles without solicitation cycles, pipeline management or cases for support. What at the most basic levels are we trying to achieve in fundraising roles? Connect donors to amazing opportunities with our cause? Create transformational partnerships that align our donors’ values and requirements with that of our organisation? Let’s really think about what we want the role to undertake and achieve and write it in a way that is inspiring and user-friendly. This is particularly important if we are to attract individuals who are new to the charity sector. Would they know what any of our jargon means? Would it immediately put them off applying? Write the job description for someone who knows nothing about fundraising and who you are trying to persuade to join the sector.

Celebrate your specialness

Job adverts can be so generic and bland. They don’t explain why one should join a particular organisation, and I am not talking about including items regarding pension pots and additional leave schemes. I am talking about the values your organisation stands for, the vision you have for the world, the kind of person you want to attract and be successful in the role and the working culture of the organisation. This is where you stand out from others, what differentiates you and what is really going to spark an interest in the organisation. It’s the emotional pull that will draw a candidate in. Really sell your organisation.            

Reframe the “required skillset and experience” section

It’s surprising how many roles have such a defined set of required experience or skillsets. For example, for head of major gift roles that require engagement with individuals giving six- and seven-figure sums, the majority list “experience of bringing in six- and seven-figure gifts” as a requirement, and usually it’s at the top of the list. Why would someone who is already bringing in those kinds of gifts move to an organisation to do the exact same work? Unless they desperately wanted to work for a particular organisation, in which case this would significantly narrow down the pool of potential candidates.

This flies in the face of research conducted by Daniel Pink, who in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, suggests that one of the key factors in keeping staff motivated is challenge. Pink argues that this challenge must be pitched at the right level: too difficult and an employee will give up before they even begin, too easy and they will become bored and seek another role. So a head of major gifts must have experience in bringing in donations with key supporters, otherwise the task at hand would be too challenging and they would give up. But similarly, they shouldn’t be doing something at the same level in a previous role, because it does not provide enough of a challenge and they will soon become bored.

If as a sector we all secretly know that no-one is going to have all the essential criteria listed, then why do we put up another potential hurdle for someone applying for a role, particularly if they don’t have a charity background? Let’s be honest with job descriptions. With a head of major gifts role, rather than list “experience of bringing in six- and seven-figure gifts” as a requirement, let’s tell potential employees that this role requires someone with outstanding donor relationship skills who has experience in bringing in five-figure gifts/partnerships, but the opportunities posed by the role will require one to bring in six- and seven-figure gifts. This approach expands the pool of candidates and excites the reader by presenting the positive challenges that the role will have the chance to tackle. 

Our job adverts do our sector a disservice. It might take many years before our organisations have created graduate trainee schemes or our representational bodies have infiltrated career guidance programmes at schools to really address some of the big recruitment challenges we face. But we can change our job adverts today. Will you join me in writing job adverts that reflect the dynamic, exciting and rewarding sector we work in?

A message of hope and gratitude

Over the weekend came news of the attacks that took place at London Bridge and Borough Market, where terrorists eschewed bombs and guns but used knives and a van to kill seven people and injure scores of others. The attacks came close on the heels of the bombing at a concert in Manchester that killed 22 people, including a number of children.

While The Resource Alliance staff is scattered around the world, our main offices are in London. For a few hours on Saturday, many of us worried for our British colleagues and for their safety, until everyone was heard from and accounted for.

The world is a scary and volatile place right now, with no immediate relief in sight. It seems there’s no safety, no real sense of security, to be had anywhere, at any time. No matter how many billions of pounds or dollars are raised, terror continues… in its many forms: violence, abuse, negligence, apathy, etc. on a large, global scale all the way down to communities and families and individuals.

In the face of an increasingly callous and violent world, politicians poke and snipe at one another; governments wring their hands over the appropriate response; law enforcement agencies seek means of increased vigilance, faster response times and more compelling consequences; civilians shake their heads and pray for the best… and the social impact sector continues its good work and good will toward making the world a better, safer, saner place. And you — the people who help to fund that work — plunge deeper into effective fundraising, bold new models, powerful partnerships, daring investments, and overall sustainability.

For you, “what can we do” is not a statement of surrender or despair — it’s a challenge. A call to action that sounds louder and brighter each time “something happens” – a new terror attack, another atrocity, more pain being brought to light.

There are few NGOs whose mission can deliberately and directly stop terrorism in its tracks, or shut down man’s inhumanity to man and the greed that fuels it, or affect government policies, or move the hearts and minds of people who plant bombs or drive vans into groups of pedestrians and go on stabbing sprees.

But every organisation with a noble cause — whether it’s saving abused animals, feeding hungry children, helping survivors of any number of atrocities, subsidizing education, or planting community gardens — plays a part in mitigating what is terrible about the world and underscores what is wonderful about it… that aspirational element of human nature that makes us resilient, that carries us through the pain of a world gone mad.

At The Resource Alliance, we see your work from the inside. We know your dedication, we know your passion, and we know that you’re out there, day in and day out, coaxing light from darkness, and raising up humanity by connecting those who need help with those who can give it.

What you do makes a difference. We’re honored to support your work, to partner with you, to be a part of what you do. And we thank you for it. Today just feels like a good time to remind you of that.

With great gratitude
The Resource Alliance team

Global best practice grant-seeking

The question of grants success rate is a common one, universally. The fact is, no matter where you are working from, whether a grant application is successful or unsuccessful is not generally dependent on one contributing factor. It relies on a combination of all the elements of best practice grant-seeking coming together to achieve a successful outcome.

So, what are the essentials that will lead you to a successful grant-seeking strategy?

  • Ensure that the project for which you are applying for funding meets the eligibility criteria AND the guidelines for the specific funding round. Of course, you will have already confirmed that your organisation is eligible to apply to the particular funder.
  • You can demonstrate the need for the project with a strong evidence base.
  • You are clearly defining why your organisation is the best to deliver this project and receive the grant, and you have given the funder confidence you will deliver the project in the way you have said you would.
  • You are stating how your organisation / project is different from others that may be similar. i.e.: it is filling a gap.
  • Your project results will deliver the funder’s desired outcomes and their selection criteria can all be met and exceeded.
  • You are able to measure the results of the project; outputs, outcome and impact forecasts.
  • The amount of funding you are seeking is in line with the levels of grants being made.
  • Collaborative partnerships with similar organisations are a priority and part of your program delivery, as relevant and wherever possible, to prevent duplication and increase dissemination of sector wide learning.
  • You will be able to complete the project on time, and provide the final report on time.
  • Because grants are major gifts, it is important to apply a major gift, relationship-based approach to your grants program. Wherever possible, speak to the funder to discuss your application and ask for clarification on anything that is not clear. And take the funder’s advice. If they advise that your project isn’t likely to receive funding, then don’t go ahead and submit anyway.

And the big one – PLAN AHEAD! Last-minute applications will typically not present your best case. When you are rushing, steps are skipped and quality wanes.

And of course, it is always important to be clear about what you are measuring. You may have an application success rate of 15 percent but have doubled your income target. Follow the above steps and you should achieve both a good income target and application success rate.

The ABCD of an Asian philanthropist’s journey

Based on what I see as the evolution of giving habits within the high-net worth families in Asia, here are the four categories of philanthropists I have worked with:


Usually the patriarch of the business family, who has seen poverty and life struggles during his early days, either as a migrant or during the struggles against colonial rulers. His philosophy on giving is based mainly on altruistic motives- of giving back. Extended family, needy individuals, basic health and education, places of worship are the main focus of his contributions. Even when he sets up a foundation to channel his family’s contribution to the community, it is based on who asked for help rather than what it was asked for. They generally always try to respond with some form of financial help to the above stated causes, with no expectation of recognition or reporting.


Business focused

The patriarch’s sons/ daughters then go on to be educated, some with business management qualifications. When they join the family business, they tend to align their philanthropic focus with their business motivations. At this stage, the philanthropist is more interested in ‘sponsoring’ projects that provide them or their business with the visibility and recognition they seek within the relevant circles, the media and receive tax benefits where relevant. The relationship is mainly transactional. The location of their philanthropic activities is usually focused around the regions that are relevant to their business. They also provide time, effort and influence by helping on fundraising committees of charities and nonprofit organisations.

Community involved

As many of the business-focused philanthropists begin to engage with the community where they have sponsored projects or helped to raise funds, they understand the developmental realities on the ground. They become more committed to their philanthropic endeavours. From merely being a donor to projects, they build a strong relationship and trust with the community and the non-profit entities that they have been making their philanthropic contributions through. They begin to play a role in finding sustainable solutions to the local, national or global problems. Their community involvement helps them become more strategic in their philanthropic efforts. Their focus shifts towards ensuring impact through their philanthropic efforts.

I find more high-net worth women in this segment across Asia, which I believe is due to the fact that this form of philanthropy needs patience and the ability to collaborate at all levels of the community. The community-involved philanthropists are also more aware of and willing to support policy advocacy and research, addressing the root-cause of a social problems  and keen on bringing about systematic changes in the community / country, than on donating to address mere symptoms.

Daring entrepreneurs

Most of Asia’s newly rich individuals are self-made and have got there through their astute business sense. They are goal-oriented and some of them would rather invest in incubating or developing innovative ways of addressing social problems, than to giving to large charities where they have no direct control of how their funding will be used. Many high-net worth individuals in Asia have leap-frogged the philanthropy stage and have gone on to become social impact investors, or are at least marrying philanthropy with commerce. These venture philanthropists and impact investors are looking to address niche causes and working with small, agile entities, some that they have incubated themselves, where they find greater transparency, efficiency, and prioritisation of impact. They also focus on issues that their grant-making counterparts mentioned about, may not find attractive eg: clean energy, fair-trade, IT-enabled services among others.

While any form of generalisation would be unfair, especially in multi-faceted Asia, I hope these categories help, both the philanthropists and non-profit leaders, understand some of the giving behaviours in our philanthropic landscape. 

Developing the philanthropist’s portfolio

With the rapid changes around us, including the stations on the philanthropic journey, I find that many donors are seeking the philanthropic model best suited to them.  Those engaged in philanthropy are becoming more discerning and diligent about how they manage their philanthropy, just as they are about many life choices. Hence I believe they should treat their Philanthropic portfolio just like they do their investment portfolio.  The 3 Ps – of Philosophy, Process and People can be applied to their philanthropic portfolio management too.

Philosophy:  The beliefs and values that directs philanthropic decisions.  Are you looking for reach (touching as many lives as possible) or depth (few lives touched but high impact)? Do you rely on external input (through an NGO, development agency or an intermediary) or prefer to do the research yourself through personal contacts and experiences?

Process: Refers to how the philanthropists translate the philosophy into a community engagement plan.  Who makes the decision? Do you understand the social issues that are to be addressed? What is the potential risk associated with the philanthropic direction (eg: impact risk, reputational risk, operational risk etc.)

People: Refers to the network of people involved in the philanthropic engagement. Who are they? Eg: younger members of the philanthropist’s family, nonprofit leaders, intermediaries like philanthropy advisors etc.

Based on the 3-Ps that inform the philanthropist’s ability to produce social impact relevant to them, the philanthropist can build their philanthropic portfolio.  Just like their investment portfolio is made up of various asset classes, based on their investment philosophy, the philanthropic portfolio should also reflect their philosophy and risk appetite. Hence while the philanthropists may still make altruistic donations, contribute towards more measurable causes that address poverty, health and education, they could allocate resources to address more long-term and subtle influences and causes like research and advocacy to effect policy changes or systemic social changes at local or national levels, building the governance and leadership skills of non-profit collaborators, among others.

[Editor’s note: Usha Menon will present a masterclass on major donor development at IFC Asia, The Resource Alliance’s premier event in the Asia Pacific region, taking place 26-28 June in Bangkok. Check it out. We also wouldn’t hate it you’d help spread the word!]

Do-gooders take note: Capitalism is your friend!

Charities should be less squeamish and see private sector as an agent of change, not the enemy.

There’s a distrust of business, big business in particular, that I’ve experienced in my time in the “for good” sector that has always slightly puzzled me. It’s not that charity-private sector collaborations don’t exist; they do and there are some great ones. But there’s an “us and them” mentality, from the NGO side, that I think is unhelpful and restricts the scale and scope of these potentially game-changing partnerships.

I think this represents a huge underlying opportunity for us all that could release greater and faster change. If only we could get over our prejudices, which is something we’re meant to be great at!

There’s a saying I heard recently that resonated – “Business people are just people”. I worked in the private sector for over 15 years, for four different companies, and I can openly and honestly report back that they were indeed all actual people. Some of them very nice, some of them less nice, but none that I could make out were right-wing conspirators whispering in corridors about how to accelerate global inequality through the instrument of the capitalist machine.

They have sons, and daughters. They care for pets, might have elderly or infirm relatives, or friends who’ve died in preventable road traffic accidents. They could have had family members who’ve been alcoholics, suffered from mental illness, contracted a rare form of cancer. They could be L, G, B, T, Q or I.

In short, they’re just like you or me.

Now I’m the first to call out the right-wing hegemony and shout “Neoliberal consumerist propaganda zombie” at innocent shoppers looking for a bargain on the high street. (I really must stop doing that if only for my own safety.) See here, or read “Media Control” and “The Establishment” if you want something heavier.

But most business-folk are generally just trying to make and sell stuff so they can buy food and go on holiday with their families, or perhaps even because they wanted to be able to donate to charity or support an elderly relative. And because they are just people, business people will have been touched by all manner of issues to which they will be personally empathetic as a result. In addition, like the rest of the human race they are searching for fulfilment in life generally, and doing something meaningful in their work can be very motivating.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve. (Well, I am actually quite naïve; it’s one of my better qualities.) I know that at the top it’s different. The Murdochs and Trumps and their suited advisors, their politicos, have an agenda, and from what I can see, it’s either f*cking ignorant or f*cking evil, or possibly both. Unfettered self-interest and unequal power distribution is the heart of all the ills of our world.

What Owen Jones describes as the “revolving door” between politics, business and the media is a cultural structure that needs to get proper smashed up, preferably in a joyful, peaceful riot with The Clash playing “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” live in the background. That’s my dream anyway.

However, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about something more everyday – the people working in businesses, those drained, tired, squeezed and much-maligned middle-managers who are trying to sell more, make more or hire people to do so, because it’s their job. They didn’t choose the political infra-structure – who did, hey Noam? – they’re just living life. Someone has to stack the peas, right?
Those people are A) not the enemy, and, importantly B) have power. They have the power to influence their bosses, and the companies that supply them, the ads they make, the people they employ and so on.

Let’s have a couple of examples.

Maltesers and Scope

The recent Maltesers/Scope campaign has made a huge impact within the ad industry, winning awards and spurning many a conference debate. I should declare that I know about this because the person who commissioned that campaign happens to be my partner. And in case it all sounds a bit cosy – we argue regularly and viscerally about politics.

Even though 20 percent of the UK population have a disability, they are hardly ever featured in mainstream advertising. On the rare occasions disabled people are even present within advertising, they are normally framed as “superhumans”, as objects of admiration or inspiration – not regular people. In this campaign they were portrayed like everyone else: self-deprecating, able to laugh at themselves, and not exceptional.

By producing this campaign, Mars has not only done a good thing for the world in casting disabled people in advertising and hence starting to normalise what is normally stigmatised, they have also started an apprenticeship scheme to get people from lower-income backgrounds into their business, banned all-male director short-lists by their advertising agency, and are promoting a diversity and inclusion agenda across the ad industry, which shapes so many of our aspirations and stereotypes. They also sold more Maltesers as a result, by the way.

Now that’s the kind of people we should be working with (and Scope did exactly that).

But the key thing that big business has, that most NGOs don’t, is scale. Oxfam can do all of the campaigning and project work it wants on West African cocoa farming, but as the world’s single largest purchaser of cocoa, Mars changes its sourcing policy and massive change can happen, in timeframes we NGOs can only dream about. Actually there is a good deal to commend Mars for in this area, but of course it could do more.

Engaging with big corporations doesn’t mean just taking money from them. This can be problematic as it disrupts the power balance and is open to quiet abuse of the type that Save the Children became famous for. Of course, money can be part of the equation, and depending on what change you’re seeking to achieve, it may be enough. If you’re a local scout group and you need a new roof (always roofs and never floors, isn’t it), then a donation from a local firm could be all you need. Not every challenge needs a global, systemic solution. Sometimes, you just need a roof.

However if the change you’re seeking is bigger, it means finding a way of discussing and influencing that makes real change. Plus it needs to be attached to some thinking, which means it’s not just a patsy.

Oxfam and Unilever

Oxfam and Unilever have a long-standing partnership. One of the areas of shared work is on gender, with Oxfam advising on issues and policy. Unilever’s Opportunities for Women recognises the company’s role and responsibility across its business in furthering equality for women, from its supply chain through to its consumer advertising. The goal is to empower 5 million women in the company’s supply chain by 2020. This “unstereotype” initiative aims to “portray diverse images of women and girls… to cultivate more positive and supportive social norms”.

And if that sounds like a nice piece of corporate CSR-speak, there’s real action there on achieving gender balance in management (risen from 38 percent to 45 percent) and recruitment, where hiring managers must achieve equal numbers of male and female applicants for 80 percent or more of roles. And in the 300 factories that Unilever owns globally, they are promoting a range of priorities to promote women’s issues including land rights, accessibility for blue-collar jobs and training women farmers.

In their Kenyan tea estate, they are dealing with sexual harassment by increasing their proportion of female team leaders from 3 percent to 30 percent, improved grievance reporting via a toll-free, local language hotline. Again, through its Behind the Brands campaign, Oxfam is not uncritical of Unilever in some areas, but just look how their practices have improved over the past four years – that’s real progress.

There’s a great blog here with examples where companies have actually sought to actively defend civil society space, with some interesting insights as to the types of business that are likely to be most responsive (consumer facing and those with strong values and engaged senior leaders).

So business people are people. And lots of them are nice and want to do some good, whilst also flogging Maltesers, or soap powder, both of which are nice things to have in the world.

What is your organisation’s approach to engaging with the private sector? What are your links – you’ll have loads, most people in the UK work in it, so start with the people you know first. Remember, business people are people. Find a sympathetic ear.

Most people working in the private sector find the work less than interesting. They have to spend their time in meetings about double glazing, pet food, or IT solutions. Saving the world, the planet or putting a roof on your local scout hut is both rewarding and interesting, and if you’re persistent you’ll find people who will be more than happy to support you. I promise.

Let me know how you get on.

I am bored to death. Are you dying to be different?

Is this a tasteless headline or attention grabbing?  Does it matter if it’s tasteless?

Let’s get legacy giving noticed

How many legacy campaigns are noticed? In focus groups it is truly frightening to discover that most legacy articles, posters, leaflets and even bookmarks go unnoticed.

There are two reasons for this message blindness:

  • The blandness of the content of legacy-related communications
  • The automatic assumption that prospects think a gift in a will is not for them – either because they have a family and dismiss a charity without further thought, or they think they cannot afford it. There might be the “I have got to die to leave a will” syndrome as well.

Getting prospects off their bottoms

Then we have the call to action, which is just not a subject to discuss over breakfast or lunch or whilst on holiday or during a fun day out.  Imagine for one moment you are retired. You wake up and you think: Shall we make our will today or book a cruise?  The answer is blindingly obvious.

Then we have the bland problem – the dullness of legacy visions. Having recently been on 40 websites – I choose one a day to ensure wakefulness – they have merged into a cloudy oneness that gives me no enthusiasm to act.

If a legacy campaign ever hits the headlines it will probably be fake news. We must change this.

Driving engagement

Legacies are almost invariably driven by personal experience and engagement supported by brand awareness. This means that passion to make a difference is running high. But often it is running high to support NOW and not LATER. Our donors are thinking about “today” and not “tomorrow”.

We must urge donors to take note of your charity’s ambitious, tangible vision, which expresses some urgency (but not too much, which can result in thoughts of “they want me dead now ”.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”.  TS Eliot

Let’s throw away polite, nice, cuddly pussycat communications and explode with radical off-the wall- iconoclastic and really exciting campaigns. Let’s get under the skin of prospects so they get off their damned bottoms and act or even complain. There is nothing like a complaint; it shows passion and care.

Let’s be outrageous, tacky, tasteless, inspiring and mind-changing and blow them out of their chair, bed, garden, bar or toilet to head to their professional adviser screaming, “I can be part of this”.

The timing is perfect: Prime prospects are now baby boomers who, compared to previous generations of legators, are more radical in their giving, more inquisitive about performance and think more about outcomes than previous generations.

Decades ago, when the primary prospects  were single, older females, we could all afford to be nice and cuddly because those prospects did not have a family –there was no competition with families. The cat/dog was their last friend and so the cat/dog charity got their legacy. This all sounds so patronising — it’s not meant to be. But over the last 30 years, the gender split of legators in the UK (the only country with 100 percent of information on every legator) has changed from over 80 percent females to 60 percent females. And these females are now baby boomers who have been in business and think about legacies along business lines. The legacy decision is driven by the vision – but the need for a will drives action.

Combine a radical and noticeable vision + a radical will-making message and it will happen. These intelligent donors are NOT satisfied with a “cuddly pussycat” approach.

We have to hit them between the eyes, brain and heart.    

If we continue to be nice and polite or (God forbid) apologetic about the need for legacies, we will in the end fail. Legacy growth will be dead.

Let’s sock it to them (as they said in the 1960s.)

The legacy masterclass at the IFC this year (run by Denise Fernandes of  Sickkids Canada and me) is going to challenge every boundary we can imagine. In a way, Sickkids already has with its brilliant Fund the Fight campaign. The subject for the legacy workshops at IFC is one of the most important issues we face: the call to action to get them off their bottoms. 

[Editor’s note: This post is part of a series leading up to two Resource Alliance events — IFC Asia, The Resource Alliance’s premier event in the Asia Pacific region, taking place 26-28 June in Bangkok; and IFC 2017, taking place 17-20 October in the Netherlands.]

Intermediaries in an entirely new ecosystem of supply and demand

I have been having one of those ongoing conversations with Atallah Kuttab, the founder of Saaned, an organization devoted to growing philanthropy in the Middle East. In addition to being a charming person, I find him to be an outstanding thinker in the area of philanthropy, fundraising and, most importantly, new models of creating social impact.

Ata and I have, in our own ways, been pushing the non-profit/NGO sector to take advantage of the information and communications revolution to reframe how we define our role in society. To realize that we do ourselves a disservice by describing what we do through the methods and models we have available to us at any given moment in time. To embrace the fact that the rules we have been working under for decades are changing, and the new rules will not be rules at all. To understand the kind of thinking that we all must adopt as two centuries of “industrial-revolution-style” specialization is being replaced (rapidly) by a new kind of systemic way to view any problem.

So that we are no longer “shackled” by past conventions, and no longer bound by the limitations of tools and tactics that have become so common, but less relevant than they once were.

As we were picking up our ongoing conversation on this new era, Ata made a comment that, to me, felt profound. It felt as though he saw through the “fog” of our current circumstance, and provided a vision of how we must see ourselves going forward. Specifically, he said:

We must begin to see ourselves as intermediaries in an entirely new ecosystem of supply and demand.

To me this was a beautiful summation of the new world in which we find ourselves.

A world in which a rural Filipino farmer living 100 km from the nearest town, now has the ability to transform her work, her life and the security of her family through a smartphone. A world in which a prospective donor has immediate access to anything that has ever been said about our organization, and the ability to bypass our work entirely to give directly to a small organization in sub-Saharan Africa. A world in which people can form and mobilise values-based communities without regard to the false restraints of geographic borders and political systems.

There will be a day — not too far over the horizon — in which we will find the idea of “non” profit and “for” profit as meaningless categorizations. There will be a time — quickly approaching — where terms like “non” governmental and “social responsibility” will seem simple minded.

We are most qualified to play the role of intermediary.  The question is what must we begin to do today to play that role — not just be prepared, but to lead?

[Editor’s note: This post is part of a series leading up to two Resource Alliance events — IFC Asia, The Resource Alliance’s premier event in the Asia Pacific region, taking place 26-28 June in Bangkok; and IFC 2017, taking place 17-20 October in the Netherlands.]


The future of fundraising

Despite humanity’s best efforts, through technology or divination, we are yet to master the art of forecasting the future. This article has no ambition to improve on that record. The commentary to follow is a reflection on the changes taking place around us today – social, environmental and ethical. Its aim is to show how these shifts in human thinking and activity offer indications and inspiration to organisations and individuals tasked with the challenge of raising funds for causes and creations focused on delivering purposeful impact.


In the present state of our planet and its people, it is hard not be discouraged, perhaps even scared or angry, with what we see around us. NASA recorded the hottest summer in recorded history in 2016, precipitating increases in extreme weather activity and the ravages of floods and drought, sometimes in exactly the same locations. The ratio of inequality has recently reached the same level as the time leading to the French Revolution and the brink of the Great Depression. A wave of populist politics has fomented the rise of fundamentalist demagogues in the Asia, Europe and the US, and with that what seems to be steps back from progressive enlightenment toward the stewardship of our environment and harmony in our society.


Although humanity cannot predict the future, we have been industrious in dealing with the problems that we encounter. In the early 18th century, Thomas Malthus suggested that the world was headed toward a global catastrophe where population growth would exceed food production, leading to widespread death and pestilence. At that time, there were less than a billion people in the world.

Centuries later we have not only managed to sustain the majority of our 7 billion brothers and sisters, but the population growth rate is currently decreasing. It is not decreasing due to either death or pestilence; we have managed to address parts of those problems with products like antibiotics, sanitation and soap.  Economists suggest that populations are decreasing because of birth control, women in the formal workforce and, surprisingly, an increasing desire for families to have fewer children so they can give them more time and attention. Ironically, in our digital world, we spend more time working, less time sleeping, and using our money on entertainment and toys to attend to our children. Instead of the catastrophe of overpopulation, we are increasingly contributing to our ultimate extinction.


So, are we heading to our oblivion? I doubt it. People are not only the cause of many of the problems we face, we are most certainly the likely candidates to provide the solutions for our continued survival. Our ability to discover ways to address the challenges we face are matched with our ingenuity to package those products and distribute them into the hands and minds of others. We have harnessed the sun, visited the moon, measured the stars, brought (electric) light into our darkness, and transcended time and space through inventions like the Internet and virtual reality. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made”. The one tool we all have in common is the brain we have been blessed with and the intellect and ability it provides for us to overcome our limitations, bridge our boundaries and bind us all together.


One of the recent inventions of our civilization is the non-profit organizations – institutions separate from church and state, formed for the purpose of social and/or environmental change. But why, I wonder, have we become comfortable with referring to a sector by what it is not instead of what its aims to accomplish? Non-profit, or more appropriately “for purpose”, organisations need to shift their paradigm from being a charity to becoming a platform to deliver relevant and measurable social and/or environmental return to its beneficiaries and its supporters.


Recent neurological research on giving suggests that the wealthier we get the less empathetic we become and the less we give as we try to protect what we have accumulated. Seeking a “donor” is not enough anymore. Fundraisers need to become comfortable with the details and demands of metrics to present and promote the opportunity for supporters to invest in their cause and become partners in their process of change.

Investment is more than just a gift, it’s a contract, and it’s an expectation that the promise of change has an opportunity to be brought into reality. Investment is not a linear process, it’s a relationship, it’s a collaboration of resources and skills toward a common purpose. To build and maintain support, organisations and fundraisers will need to discover innovative ways to connect with their supporters and bring them into their story, creating dialogue and a trusted relationship. The principles haven’t changed, but the tools and the language have. It’s time for us to learn again.

The joy of giving — and what it means to fundraisers: An interview with author and philanthropy advisor Jenny Santi

Jenny Santi is a philanthropy advisor to some of the world’s most generous givers, celebrity activists, and leading financial institutions in Europe and Asia, helping them channel their wealth, power and search for meaning toward social good. She also is the author of the acclaimed book, “The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving.”

We’re looking forward to meeting Jenny at IFC Asia (26-28 June in Bangkok), where she will present a keynote session titled, “What Giving Does for the Giver.”

In the meantime, we chatted with her about her book, her research, her stories, and her thoughts about the changing philanthropic landscape in the Asia Pacific region.

The Resource Alliance: The title of your book is “The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving.” How have you seen specific change happen in the life of givers?

Jenny Santi: Giving can lead us to find our purpose and discover our calling – not just a career. It helps us find strength through some of the greatest challenges in life, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a personal crisis, or a collective tragedy. Giving can lead to new friendships, deeper connections, stronger family ties, and to love. It gives us a sense of significance beyond material success.

RA: How can a fundraiser (or team) at a nonprofit organisation harness what you’ve learned to better engage with supporters? 

 JS: It runs so contrary to this picture of happy giving that I’ve been talking about so far, yet donor fatigue is a very real phenomenon. Giving can also lead us to feel depleted, taken advantage of, and burnt out – especially these days when there isn’t a day that goes by that my mail doesn’t include a solicitation from some charitable organization looking for help. The last chapter of the book discusses how each of us can give in a way that makes us happy and fulfilled, not burnt out and resentful.

One of the most important things I discovered is that donor fatigue doesn’t happen because donors are broke. It is far more likely that they have become fatigued because they are skeptical of whether most of the money they’re giving away will ever reach the needy. Practically none of us can say that the feeling of donor fatigue is because we’re already giving away too much money to too many charities. Nearly all of us can give just a little more. The biggest reason for donor fatigue is that a person’s generosity is not well matched to his or her passion. Our impulse to give stems from the heart. Our passion should be the starting point for our giving. Fundraisers should learn what their supporters and prospects are deeply passionate about. What moves them? What are their motivations for giving?

RA: Are there any misconceptions around giving (and asking) that you feel might hinder organisations in their funding efforts?

 JS: Your supporters and prospects want to be asked about what they are passionate about. And they also want to hear your story – what moved you to do what you do? What is your story? Also, Think win-win. Particularly for those with fundraising responsibilities, don’t think of yourself as constantly in a state of need, but know what you have got to offer.

RA: Can you share any specific insights about giving and philanthropy in the Asia Pacific region? 

JS: Some trends I’ve seen in the APAC region:

Greater exchange of ideas among philanthropists. Collaboration among philanthropists is taking place – not quite yet on the ground, but at least in the ideological sense. Over the last few years there have been a great number of conferences, meetings and networking events convening philanthropists in Asia. There is a greater willingness among them to meet with other families and individuals in the social sector, such as academics, nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, and other wealthy families and individuals. Most of these gatherings are organized by private banks, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations, but there is evidence of philanthropists self-organizing as well, particularly among the younger generation.

Philanthropy becoming more public. Accompanying the greater exchange of ideas is the trend toward more public giving. Many major philanthropists in Asia still prefer to maintain the confidentiality of their activities, mainly due to strong cultural and religious dispositions, as well as their concerns regarding unwarranted governmental or media scrutiny. However, a number of philanthropists realized that they themselves got started on their giving journey after having heard or read about another individual’s or family’s philanthropic acts. They then realized that being more public about their giving increases the chances that other people will be compelled to do the same. For instance, a Singaporean real estate tycoon with whom I have worked once told me that the reason he decided to formalize and be public about his giving was because he was inspired by Bill Gates – and that had Gates been private about his giving, wealthy Singaporeans would not have learned from his example.

Combining business approaches with traditional philanthropy. A number of Asian families are combining traditional philanthropy with investments in for-profit businesses that can directly benefit the lower income segments in Asia. These include investments in basic services and infrastructure that governments have not been able to provide, such as socialized housing, the water sector, education, health care and microfinance. For example, the Ayala Corporation, one of the oldest and largest conglomerates in the Philippines, combines philanthropy and business to address bottom-of-the-pyramid problems by investing in microfinance, health care and education. These have been game changers for people with little or no access to services. Another example is Cipla, a socially conscious, multibillion dollar generic pharmaceuticals company led by Yusuf Hamied. He and his company made high-quality HIV-AIDS antiretroviral medicines cheap enough so that poor people in developing countries, especially in Africa, can access them. Treatment used to cost US$12,000-US$15,000 per patient per year. Cipla brought it down to about US$350 a patient a year. Hamied saved millions of people by providing affordable – not free – medicines.

The next generation becoming a catalyst for change. Asia 30 years ago is vastly different from what it is now. The economic transformation of the region, particularly in countries such as Singapore and China, has been exceptionally rapid. Within Asian families, successive generations have vastly differing experiences in terms of their exposure to war and political upheaval, economic deprivation, the impact of the West, the globalization of business, and the shifting balance of tradition and modernity. The younger generations are more influenced by Western trends and practices, and are leading the ideological shifts within their rather traditional family philanthropies.

RA: Tell us something about yourself that speaks to the heart of who you are. 

JS: In the days before this book went to print, I wondered whether I should change the title, for what right did I have to write a book about happiness? I have never been a naturally happy and cheerful person, and there have been many stretches in my life when I struggled with depression.

But through all this, my career, first as a teacher and then as a philanthropy advisor, kept me happy. As a teacher, I woke up every day looking forward to being in the classroom, knowing that I was being of service to my students. When I became a philanthropy advisor, day after day I met with inspiring people working hard to make a difference, and their concern for something bigger than them made me realize that there is more to life than worrying about my own problems. When I came out publicly about my own mental health struggles, I found that strength in somehow being able to help others who were still suffering in silence and in shame. I found my own giving way to happiness.

RA: What lead you to research and write a book on this particular topic? 

JS: In the winter of 2007, after a six-month post-MBA job hunt that made me feel depressed and insecure about my career prospects, I landed a dream job in a field that I did not even know existed: philanthropy advisory. One of the world’s largest private banks invited me to join their team of in-house philanthropy advisors, and I began my unusual career of advising extraordinarily wealthy people on their charitable activities.

In the 10 years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve had the chance to meet not just with big-ticket philanthropists but also with so many inspiring people from the social sector – social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, prominent activists, young students and volunteers, and other idealists from all over the world, and from different walks of life. They taught me that giving is not just for the rich, and oftentimes those who do not have much give even more of their time, their talents, and their lives to something that matters deeply to them. I realized that many of the people I was meeting were so fundamentally fulfilled, and I knew that it was because each of them was in every sense of the word a giver. I wanted to write a book that focused on what I saw day to day – the life-changing power of giving on the giver.

RA: What causes are near and dear to your heart? How do you choose where to focus your giving? 

JS: As a philanthropy advisor, I work with my clients to help them channel their wealth, power and influence toward social good. It’s a role where I wear multiple hats – strategy consultant, family advisor, personal career counselor, onnector and event planner all rolled into one. My approach is that my clients’ philanthropic endeavors should not only be making a positive impact, but should also be personally rewarding, fulfilling, life-changing and fun. I don’t believe in giving until it hurts; rather, I believe in giving until it feels great.

In my case, I have always been a huge animal lover so I will always do something related to that. I also experienced first-hand, in my early 20s, the benefits of having mentors, particularly women mentors. So, I am interested in things that have to do with mentorship. I also find that my interests are evolving and widening as I meet more people in the social sector, and I’m about to join the board of a wonderful organization focused on peace building (more soon!).

RA: Look ahead five years. What do you see the fundraising/philanthropic landscape looking like? In general, and in Asia specifically? 

JS: Some things I see happening:

Family foundations will become more and more of a status symbol. The enormous increase in affluence in Asia is providing far greater opportunities for giving. There will be greater pressure on, as well as greater desire within, wealthy families to give as much money away as they spend. Philanthropy will be more and more important to the wealthy, and will even be a status symbol. There are signs that it already is. Celebrity philanthropy will emerge. As wealthy families become more and more public about their philanthropy, they themselves will become “celebrities” by virtue of their big-ticket giving. At the same time, they will enlist notable personalities from the world of entertainment, politics and sports to draw greater attention to their cause. In India, for example, celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan have played a crucial role in eradicating polio through public service campaigns. Ultra-high net worth families and individuals will realize that partnering with well-loved celebrities multiplies social innovation and impact.

Philanthropists will take on more controversial issues. Right now, most philanthropy in Asia is directed toward the improvement of education and health care and the broad goal of poverty alleviation. These issues are hardly controversial; everyone agrees that these are important matters to address. In the near future, I can see that Asian philanthropists will be bolder and riskier. Some of the causes they back may be contentious and polarizing, but they will back them anyway. It is already happening in the USA. For example, Giving Pledge signatory Peter B. Lewis funds much of the movement to enact laws that give patients access to marijuana as relief for pain and nausea, and he has made no secret of being one of those patients himself, using marijuana to help with pain following the amputation of his leg. The Lien Foundation, one of the leading foundations in Singapore, prides itself in its radical approach. Its “Happy Coffins” initiative overturns the stigma of death and turns the coffin from a symbol of fear, dread and grief into a positive and life-affirming expression of art. I would like to see Asian philanthropists embrace more provocative causes just as the Lien Foundation does. My dream is to work with a philanthropist with the commitment and audacity to back controversial, underfunded causes such as mental illness, gay rights or sex education.

[The Resource Alliance staff is super stoked about having secured Jenny as a keynote presenter at IFC Asia, our premier event in the Asia Pacific region, taking place 26-28 June in Bangkok. Check it out. We also wouldn’t hate it you’d help spread the word!]

Go out of business, talk to a kindergartner and other steps for getting to WHY 

Budweiser is bringing friends together. Chevy is keeping America rolling. And we’re all trying to keep up with the Kardashians.

For-profit brands just get it. Driving big sales is all about telling us on the most visceral level WHY we can’t live without them.

It’s no different for nonprofits.

If I’m going to invest my money to change the world — and I am — you simply must show me the impact we can achieve together. That means knowing, with absolutely clarity, why you exist.

In recent years, many nonprofits have heeded the call to step up their marketing. For example, Share our Strength is now No Kid Hungry; and based on recent news, it’s pretty clear that ACLU’s mission is to do whatever it takes to protect our human rights. Note that while both charities could wow us with their strategies and tactics for impact —  complicated litigation, food access, sophisticated distribution channels, etc. — they don’t lead with that. They first inspire us with WHY.

Unfortunately, I see too many nonprofits still struggling with this charge. A simple question —  “What do you do? — yields a complicated or vague answer. “We bring people together.” “We empower parents to be their best.” “We do policy advocacy on behalf of critical issues facing people in poverty.” YUCK!

This lack of clarity is the death knell for fundraising, especially with millions of nonprofits competing for the same dollars. We’ve simply got to do better than wishy washy platitudes and complicated jargon.

Here are my suggestions for getting to a clean and crisp WHY

Go out of business. One of the ways to get super clear on your value (or lack thereof) is to close up shop. Do this figuratively (first). Specifically, have a discussion with your team about who will benefit and who will lose when your mission is accomplished. This will help you focus on your value. It will also help you to gain clarity on the hero and the villain in your organizational story.

Talk to a kindergartner. Explaining your mission to your favorite 6-year-old is a great device for getting clear on why your work matters. Pro tip: At CFED, we asked our founder to write a letter to his granddaughter. His prose about WHY he started our organization was beautiful, simple and clear, and it deeply inspired our donors and staff.

Have a baby. Sometimes you actually have to step away from your work for a while to see it clearly. And it’s not just the stepping away that matters, it’s the deep engagement in a new or different task. Inspiration and clarity appear in the strangest places.

Go to rehab. Some organizations are too broken to fix and we need a serious time out. Resign. Take a sabbatical. As Andy Stern, former CEO of SEIU, so bravely said, “Unexpectedly to many, but very logical to me, if you can’t figure out where you’re leading and organization, it’s pretty hard to get up every day and go to work. So I resigned.” Obviously, leaving your organization is a BIG decision, but it is the right and responsible choice if you’re a senior leader and cannot see the path forward.

Write the Pixar Pitch. Pixar has an elegant and deceptively simple framework for nailing the WHY of your work. Fill in these blanks.

Once upon a time:

Every day:

One day:

Because of that:

Because of that:

Until finally:

Competition for philanthropic funds is fierce. If you don’t know why your work matters, no one else will either and you are not going to get investment. Worse, your lack of clarity, all but ensures that donors will not fund you at scale.

Use the suggestions above to nail the WHY of your work and the money will follow. It’s a simple and hard as that.




Building an effective supporter services function

For far too long, supporter services teams were considered to be a mere “back office” function, perhaps an extension of the individual giving department, and consigned to processing and administration.

But a major transformation of that outdated image has been under way, as organisations prioritise supporter engagement and adopt a greater supporter-centric approach. Increasingly, supporter services teams are positioned at the very centre of the organisation, serving all fundraising disciplines, and are recognised as the true guardians of stewardship with a critical role to play in supporter engagement, development and retention.

THINK’s recent benchmarking survey of 19 members of the Supporter Services Forum reveals some fascinating statistics about today’s supporter services teams (also illustrated in this infographic):

  • The average supporter services team processes £90 million of voluntary income and provides support and stewardship to 1.2 million active supporters.
  • The average supporter services team has 21 members of staff, with a staff turnover rate of 12-17%.
  • There is a ratio of 59,000 supporters to each member of supporter services staff.
  • From every 100 active supporters there will be five enquiries per year, 47% by email, 41% by phone and 12% by post.
  • 51% of new donors Gift Aid their donation, and Gift Aid represents an average of 5% of reported voluntary income.
  • Supporter services teams respond to 1,100 complaints per year from supporters, and approximately 10% of these directly relate to supporter services activity.
  • For every 1,000 active supporters there will be two complaints per year.
  • 66% of charities have a dedicated specialist compliance manager.

Top tips for building an effective supporter services function

Recruit the right people

It’s all about attitude. Recruiting staff who have a positive, “can-do” attitude will have a hugely beneficial impact on the team’s effectiveness. Skills and experience can be developed — but attitude, like culture, is hard to change. Charities now use a range of recruitment tools such as telephone interviews, assessment centres and online psychometric testing to make sure they recruit people with the right attitude, and use schemes such as apprenticeships and internships to observe and develop potential candidates. Once on board, good employee engagement practices will help to ensure that your team remains focused and motivated.

Build a culture of stewardship

Supporter services are now an integral part of the holistic supporter journey and therefore must lead by example and continually deliver excellent standards of service, both internally and externally. Do your supporter services staff relish keeping their promises and strive to do what they say they are going to do? If not, what are the barriers that are preventing them from doing so? How empowered and equipped is your team to deliver first-touch resolution and bespoke stewardship within a centralised model with uniform processes? Charities need to ensure that their commitment to customer care really lives and breathes, which means designing a strong stewardship process, ensuring that supporters can take control of their own journey with the charity and that feedback and insights from the supporter services team are incorporated into the ongoing development of the supporter experience.

Raise the profile of supporter services internally

Take every opportunity to shout about what you do in supporter services. Never tire of demonstrating the impact of the team’s work and use financial and non-financial key performance indicators to illustrate how supporter services is delivering the charity’s vision and mission. Using a network of champions to promote understanding about what the supporter services team does, and communicate supporter services’ successes through a variety of methods, language and tone is a good way to raise their profile across the organisation. Individual, bespoke communication with key stakeholders is invaluable to promote what you want to achieve and to get them on your side. For each team that you work with, think about what their drivers are and what impacts on their performance so that you can tailor messages accordingly.

Use technology to compliment excellent supporter care

Charities are building their use of commercial customer service technology, such as Live Chat and personalised SMS to improve and enhance their real-time supporter engagement, give deeper and more enriched feedback and insights into supporter experience, and make their response more immediate, using technology that is part of the supporters’ everyday lives. Technology can support remote working, which can make extended opening hours possible, and a range of software, such as telephone call recording, can monitor quality and drive up standards of service through on-the-job training and continual process improvement.

Be clear on compliance

As charities prepare for the introduction of the Fundraising Preference Service in 2017 and new data protection legislation in May 2018, supporter services teams need to be empowered and supported to review these changes and advise of their impact on the charity, before implementing them and ensuring compliance with data protection rules. The role of supporter services in recording and implementing supporter preferences will have an increasing focus, and accurate data entry and recording will be ever more critical. They may also promote and champion the “Fundraising Promise” recommended by the Institute of Fundraising, as well as manage complaints holistically across the organisation. Supporter services teams could also play a key role in educating and training staff about compliance, across the organisation. Sixty-six percent of charities already have a dedicate specialist compliance manager and whilst this number looks set to rise, undoubtedly these roles will work closely with supporter services teams.

Make the right supplier decisions

Most supporter services teams continue to use a mix of in-house activity and outsourcing to deliver the necessary range of functions. However, charities increasingly consider the value added and qualitative dimension to any assessment of what delivery model is best for them and, as a consequence, purely cost based decisions are becoming rarer. Advice for first-time users of logistics services such as contact centres or fulfilment houses is to complete a detailed due diligence on each provider considered. You can never be too careful to check out the claims of the company and seek out references in order to make sure that it is an operation that shares your values. It’s very similar to trying to choose the best employee — taking extra time up front to make sure the best decision is made will pay dividends in the long run and avoid any potential pitfalls by having to switch providers or bring the entire process back in-house. And regular training of your suppliers about your organisation’s value, aims and objectives and tone of voice is imperative to enable them to operate an effective extension of your service.

The role of supporter services has shifted dramatically over the last five years and the function has moved from being considered a back office, processing function, focused primarily on individual giving, to a central and front line, supporter facing operation, spanning all of fundraising. It’s an exciting time to be involved in supporter services, to be acknowledged as playing an integral part of the holistic supporter journey, providing excellent customer care to engage and retain supporters.


The physics of cultural transformation

While my work is focused almost entirely on helping social impact organizations create cultural transformation, it’s surprising how much comfort and insight can be found in the fundamental laws of physics that I learned in the early years of my engineering education.

For example, it is compelling to think about how well organizational culture maps apply to the four basic principles of flight.

Insight #1: Bricks are not designed to fly

Bear with me as I offer a 65-word physics lesson on the four forces necessary for flight:

Weight—The force of gravity that acts in a downward direction, ever-pulling something back to earth.

Drag—The force that acts in opposition to thrust, caused mostly by a lack of air flow, and too much friction.

Lift—The force that acts in an upward direction (in opposition to weight) to create flight.

Thrust—The force that propels things forward (in direct opposition to drag).

When lift and thrust are stronger than weight and drag, flight is not only possible, it is literally impossible to prevent. On the other hand, when weight and drag dominate, it is literally impossible to leave the ground (or stay aloft).

I am struck by how much weight and drag is present in some cultures in the nonprofit “sector,” and how hard it can be to create the forces that are essential to flight.

Insight #2: Gluing wings to a brick will not help

As the “pilot” of your organization (yes, I am, admittedly, flogging the analogy to death), your job is as simple and profound as making sure that the forces of lift and thrust are always greater than the forces of weight and drag.

When they are not it is your prerogative — and obligation — to change it.

Yet, literally millions of hours that could be applied to making a difference in the world are, instead, applied to the arduous (and fruitless) task of trying to do the equivalent of pinning wings to a brick. Trying to force a culture that is better suited to — perhaps even unwittingly designed for — inertia, rather than flight

Insight #3: Lives depend on your ability to fly

In the case of a pilot, the need to overcome the forces of gravity and drag is both obvious and instinctive, because there is a direct and dramatic connection between cause and effect: If a plane does not fly, lives are lost.

For leaders in the social impact sector, the issue is perhaps less obvious. But in most cases, it is no less consequential: Most of us have a moral obligation to fly because lives depend on us.

No individual nor group can be allowed to stand in the way of our obligation to touch those lives. There must be a relentless and tireless push to reach more people, and to do more for those people.

 A push that is not defined by how far we may have come,

but that is driven by how far we have yet to go.

A push that is not constrained by the nattering nabobs of negativity that incessantly argue for our limitations,

but that is compelled by the people we have yet to reach.

Insight #4: Altitude is a luxury many of us do not have

Each of us faces a simple, but profound, question: Do we have enough altitude/time to do the “comfortable” thing, and coax our drag and weight coefficients to change their very nature (despite ample evidence that they are disinclined to do so), or do each of us need to pour on maximum lift and thrust by any and every means available.

Your staff, your leaders, your board and your partners will probably support you — whether you want to try to overcome the forces of drag and weight over the next several years, or right now. But, barring a miracle, the laws of physics are absolute. They are not rooted in hope nor are they subject to our human wishes and whims.

Insight #5: It’s time to start some “pilot” projects

Lift does not happen by getting a “majority” of people to believe in (or even to agree to) change. Instead, you need to focus on the 10 percent to 15 percent of influencers or evangelists, and get them to believe in (and commit to) change. Thrust does not happen by suddenly becoming more aggressive on holding people accountable. It comes from empowering the influencers and evangelists through new pilot projects where the power of change can be proven.

When those projects become successful, you will find — just like an aircraft  —that flight is not only possible, it is literally impossible to prevent.

It’s time to fly

This is a pivotal moment in the nonprofit/civil society/social impact sector. A time when our success is not just necessary but, in many ways, the difference between life and death.

I realize the analogy has its flaws, but it can be helpful to understand that there are very real forces at play, there is a very real altitude question that puts time pressure on the equation, and there are very tangible things a “pilot” can do.

By the way, you have NO PARACHUTE and NO EJECTION SEAT in this scenario, so don’t ask!

[Editor’s note: Bill Toliver will be presenting both a masterclass and workshop session titled “Communications strategies to build powerful support for your cause” at IFC Asia, The Resource Alliance’s premier event in the Asia Pacific region, taking place 26-28 June in Bangkok. Check it out. We also wouldn’t hate it you’d help spread the word!]




Why fundraising is so hard, and how ‘why’ can make it easier

May 2015 was a watershed month for our sector. The tragic death of Olive Cooke, and the subsequent media mauling, forced us (or at least some of us) to re-examine our “best” practise.

In the midst of the chaos, conscientious fundraisers gathered to try and make sense of what was going on. They asked, “How did we get here?” and “How do we get away from here?” All kinds of groups, formal and informal, sprang up. Surely the most prestigious of these is the Commission on the Donor Experience.

The Commission’s expressed purpose (wonderfully illustrated recently by one of its founders, the legendary Giles Pegram) is, “Donors should be at the heart of fundraising”. From this unifying theme sprang numerous voluntary working groups, each examining aspects of the donor experience: what it is, and what it could and should be. The beta-phase of this considerable effort is to be announced in just over a week.

So, as a fundraiser, what do I want to see from the Commission on the Donor Experience? Something our sector’s never seen before: solid evidence of a better way to fundraise.

Let’s face facts, fundraising was hard long before May 2015. If anyone had empirical evidence of a better, easy to apply and scale practise than the “best” we run on, all of this could have been avoided. Instead fundraisers have been undermined, for decades, by two diametrically opposed schools of thought:

  1. Failing to ask why people give, and why they stop, and instead incessantly “rattling a tin” in supporters’ faces
  2. Presuming to know why people give, i.e. “donor-centric”, “donor love”, “engagement,” etc. Still tin rattling, only now increasing the volume and supporter irritation. And, worse, randomly risking staggering insensitivity (e.g. the health charity that doesn’t know if the person it’s sending its “emotional story” to has the disease).

Both claim “best practice” status. Yet neither has had the slightest effect on the corrosive trend of unsustainable donor attrition.

Post May 2015, there’s been a growing recognition in the sector that why someone supports, and why they stop, matters. Many big organizations have tried to put supporters “at the heart of fundraising”. They’ve invested a fortune re-segmenting to reveal what they believed to be motivational groupings. They analysed not just giving history, but all interactions, demographics, satisfaction, loyalty scores, you name it.

But not one of them has anything to show for it in terms of improving performance, value and retention.

So, does that mean the philosophy is wrong? Well, either the pathway to success is simply spamming, or spamming and patronising, supporters — or the intention was right, but the execution was wrong.

I know for certain it’s the latter as I’ve had the privilege to work with a growing number who have not only scientifically answered the question “why”, but applied it with extraordinary success:

  • Acquisition conversion up 15%
  • Average gift up £10
  • Attrition cut by 50%

Very clearly, uncovering and delivering on “why” is the key to putting the donor “at the heart of fundraising”.  At the moment, these are exceptions. If our sector is to deliver on its mission, they must become the new rule. How close we are to a better “best” will be revealed by the Commission on the Donor Experience in just a few days’ time.

If you have any solid evidence of significant change that’s in line with, or better than, what’s been shared, please get in touch with the Commission on the Donor Experience and share how you did it.

Fundraising may never be easy, but it really doesn’t have to be this hard!








4 simple steps toward retention, loyalty and better donor experience

Anyone who knows me, or has seen me speak at conferences, will probably be aware of my ongoing love/hate relationship with Audi. I feel the same way about a visit to the garage as I do about going to the dentist – it’s not something I look forward to, tends to be a painful experience, and it almost always costs more than it should.

Until recently. I’ve noticed a change.

My last few interactions with Audi have been bordering on pleasant. The cynic in me suspects that the company’s database thinks I’m in the market for a new car, but the fundraiser in me recognises some of the steps it’s taking to improve my customer experience. And it’s working…

Understanding preference

Every time I collect my car after a service, I find a tin of boiled sweets on the passenger seat. I’m not a fan and my glove box is now full of them, so I asked them to stop. I can only assume that most Audi drivers must really like boiled sweets, as the look I got made me feel like I was telling someone who has bought me vodka at Christmas for the last ten years that I prefer gin. Awkward.

Last week on collecting the car, in place of the sweets I found a box containing a car seat coat hanger and an unidentifiable foam “thing”. (I’m still not sure… send guesses –  I have tins of sweets for prizes!)

It caught me a bit off guard. In fairness, a coat hanger might not sound as exciting as sweets to most people, but I do a lot of business miles (something Audi knows), and pretty much always have a rogue jacket on the back seat (something the people at the garage may have noticed), so it’s far more useful to me that a tin of sweets I don’t like.

Great planning or happy coincidence? Who knows, but it made for a better experience and in terms of fundraising it illustrates a real opportunity. Investing the time and effort to understand donor likes and preferences, and delivering a journey that fits, will almost certainly improve donor experience. We may think we’re giving donors what they want, but do we really know that what we’re delivering to them is hitting the mark?

Seeking feedback…

In the following days, I had a text, two phone calls and three email survey requests, presumably to see if I liked my coat hanger. It was only on the third email that I responded, because it seemed they really REALLY wanted to know.  I’m not surprised – getting my feedback means they can start to measure my customer experience. It’s the only way for them to know if they got it right or should have just switched my boiled sweets for jelly babies.

In fact, if they had measured my experience properly at the start of my customer journey things may have been very different. Those first few interactions are by far the most important, especially when we think about it in terms of new donors. It’s far easier to cancel a direct debit donation than buy a new car!

But better late than never. Every interaction has the potential to either increase or decrease satisfaction, so by starting to collect feedback we can have an immediate impact on improving donor experience.  In fundraising terms this could be anything from measuring the experience of donating online through to a supporter care call, a conversation on the street, or by email. Without feedback we could be getting it all wrong and never know about it.

…and acting on it!

My survey feedback hasn’t prompted a reply – but for very good reason. I told them not to. But I was given the option to get a response, which I liked. They also asked me if my last experience had improved the way I felt about them – and it genuinely has – but I’m not ready to take that conversation any further. Not at this time.

It did impress me though. Increasingly the world is asking for feedback, but all too often it’s lip service. Who’s listening? What are you doing about what I tell you?

This is where the big win is. I know only too well that it can be a real sticking point for fundraising teams with tight budgets and heavy workloads, but the bottom line is that whatever it takes to act on feedback, it’s most likely less costly than replacing lost donors because of bad experiences that are never addressed.

But Audi is still missing something crucial… and that’s knowing why I’m still a customer

I’ve had my car for a while now. I’ve paid every month, so I’m a “loyal” customer as far as their transactional CRM tells them. They probably assume it’s because I love the car so much or I love the customer experience they deliver. Wrong.

If they delved a bit further they would start to understand the reason I bought – and still own – an Audi, and it’s not the same reason my neighbour bought his. One of the biggest reasons I chose my car was because my dad drove an Audi, as does my older brother. Buying my first Audi made me feel a massive sense of achievement on a far more personal level than simply buying a car. It’s more than a decision to buy Audi over VW — it’s part of my identity.

We often have an organisational idea about why our supporters donate, which might be based on anything from assumption to some level of research. We broad brush those ideas across the database, and segment and make decisions on journeys and communications by what our donors did, not why they did it.

But knowing why is where the magic happens. Because this is where we can start to be more relevant, and how we can really start to unlock a much more meaningful donor experience. I might look the same as my neighbour in terms of demographics, but my why is likely to be different.

Simple isn’t easy…

Most of this is pretty simple, but that doesn’t make it easy. Lack of investment into donor retention often holds us back as a sector and there are obvious limitations on what is practical. With the changing sector landscape and imminent new consent guidelines to contend with, retention is going to become even more crucial than it ever has been. So starting now and identifying some of the practical things you can do is a really good idea.

4 simple steps toward retention, loyalty and better donor experience

  1. Find out what your donors like and don’t like and what they want/expect from you. Avoid donor communications that makes them wade through boiled sweets in the search of a coat hanger!
  2. Seek feedback to measure donor experience, solve problems, and fix internal and external issues.  First interaction feedback should be as immediate and as process critical as collecting bank details.
  3. Fix any bad experiences and act on feedback. Dedicating time to phone calls, personal cards or just simply saying “Sorry!” by email if someone has had a negative experience can increase early-stage retention significantly.
  4. Understand WHY each of your donors are giving to you. What level of connection do they have with your cause? Segment on identity and motivation to deliver a far more meaningful journey.



The five Rs of supporter-focused fundraising communications – any questions?

I recently had the chance to join a couple of The Resource Alliance’s IFC Pop-up conferences in South Africa to discuss putting your supporter at the heart of your fundraising communications. (By Skype, I hasten to add, joining for a live Q&A after the video of my IFC session). These pop-ups are an initiative of The Resource Alliance to bring learning from the IFC to more charities around the world.

There were some great questions, worth sharing, as they covered points that a lot of charities still grapple with. And it gives me the opportunity to share a “Five Rs” checklist for keeping communications supporter focused. Read on.

Q. Our challenge is we have zero public profile. How do you get the balance right between building your awareness, and fundraising?

 A. The first point in response is that profile alone doesn’t raise money, and isn’t necessary if you have ways and means of reaching your audience. Face-to-face street fundraising is equally effective for smaller unknown charities as for household names because it lends itself to conversations. That’s not to say a bit of name recognition doesn’t help. Of course, it does, in terms of trust and so on. Many charities with big brand profiles built that profile first through their fundraising. All charities began at the beginning raising funds without anyone knowing about them. How? Because it’s not the organisation that matters to people in the end; it’s the cause.

So, the second and important point here is to remember that “the story is not about you, get out of the way”. Focus on the problem you exist to address, the solution you offer, and the opportunity you’re offering people to make it a reality.

Q. In our work, often there isn’t much good news. It’s depressing stuff. How do we balance that with the positive?

 A. Every mission has this dichotomy because we are all seeing something wrong in the world that we want to put right. People are moved by different emotions, and different emotions can evoke different actions. You must be clear what the purpose of your communication is and think through the range of emotions that are likely to trigger people. Anger? Guilt? You don’t want to trigger despair that nothing can be done! Compassion? Hope?

We must communicate the problem and the solution, the bad with the good. The question is how you do it, and when you do it. In fundraising terms, it’s not so much about the problem and the solution, but more the opportunity presented to the audience to be the bridge between the two. They need to see the problem and be moved by that, but also glimpse the solution and be inspired by that and want to make it happen. Which is more powerful will depend on circumstances and the person.

Feedback communications, though, must be about progress and impact. The feelings you want supporters to experience are reassuring and positive ones: relief, optimism, satisfaction, pride, commitment.

Q. How can you have one message when you’ve got different audiences?

A. The issue here is making sure you have an overarching and compelling message – or single-minded story – that holds the whole organisation together and gives you focus. So the answer is to distinguish between your one over-arching story, and then how you tell it. Of course, you’ll need to tell that story slightly differently to different audiences, and if you’re engaging them to do different things. Organisations often talk about the range of their service activities, but if these seem completely different with nothing holding them together, you will come over as dissonant and disorganised, unfocused and unclear.

A challenge for many charities comes where supporters and service users are in the same community and likely to see both types of communications. Of course, they’ll be focused on one or the other. So find the compelling story of the mission and cause that both can identify with.

Q. We work with vulnerable children. We have a challenge telling personal stories to ensure child protection, and use fictional stories. Any thoughts on that?

A. The critical issue is protection of the child, and this issue applies to individuals served by many other causes too, in terms of respecting their privacy and dignity. But a question for you is about authenticity when it comes to your audience. How credible can you be when you make stuff up? People won’t engage so readily if they don’t believe the story.

I would say always use a real story, wherever possible, and then make it safe for the individual if you need to. Change the names, the location and other facts to protect their identity. Use stock or model photos, or even better, take photography carefully to hide faces. Make sure you have informed consent to use their story.

What is important, for authenticity and credibility, is to then be transparent. Explain what you’ve done and why. It can even add to the power of the story that you have had to do that. One organisation I know builds trust with those whose stories it tells by asking them to choose the name they’d like to be called in communications.

A final thought – are you telling fictional stories because your organisation is bad at finding and sharing good real ones? Sort that out instead!

The five Rs of supporter-focused fundraising communications

These Q&As illustrate this simple Five Rs checklist to consider whether communications are speaking to your audience.

  1. Reach. Perhaps obvious, but are you using the right or preferred channel to reach your specific audience? If you can’t reach them properly, so that they don’t see it, what you want to share with them counts for nothing.
  2. Relevance. Remember it’s not about you. Are you making sure that what you’re sharing is of interest, and relevant to your audience’s world? Frame what you want to say in terms and language that will connect with people.
  3. Resonance. This is the emotion bit, the feeling that moves people. Are you telling story with emotional power? Is it compelling, urgent? Do you feel it yourself when you tell it? Because like yawning, emotion is catching.
  4. Real. Is what you’re presenting authentic as a need and believable as a solution? Is what you’re asking people to do meaningful? People want to know they’re making a real difference.
  5. Reward. Are you making sure your supporters feel good about what they’re doing, helping them feel part of something big? Share the difference they are making possible, the progress.

 Got any more tips on keeping your communications supporter-focused? Please share!



‘Opt in’ will be bad for donors and very bad for the causes they support

It should be resisted, vigorously and comprehensively. Here’s why.

I’m no enthusiast for small print or screeds of regulations. Put the two together and I quickly lose the will to live. So, my response to the UK Information Commissioner’s recent request for consultation on its latest round of draft regulations is unlikely to be comprehensive. Hopefully it’s comprehensible.

I’ve always dreaded imposition of “opt in” from those on the outside who don’t get fundraising and fail to grasp why it’s so fundamental to the national treasure that is our voluntary sector, with the massive social good our charities make possible. The threat of opt in has been around for decades. Effective self-regulation might have kept it at bay, but many believe our sector has failed to make self-regulation work and now, unless we take concerted action, those who depend on charities and their services may be about to pay the heaviest possible price for that failure.

There is a seductive logic to opt in, which quickly falls apart if you understand fundraising and how donors, like other people, react to requests to either opt in to or opt out of anything. Fine in theory, offers to opt in to marginally important activities won’t work in practice because of simple inertia – the most consistent human response to just about anything.

Of course, fundraisers don’t want to send material to people who have no possible interest in receiving it. It’s a waste of time, money and goodwill. But with charity donors there’s a massive grey area because so many supporters are happy to sustain a basket of causes they get only intangible benefit from and rarely give much thought to. Fundraisers don’t want to lose contact with these important past donors who have not in any way indicated that they don’t want to be communicated with. More than 30 years ago, for Camphill Village Trust, we developed a system that works much better (see below), that gives donors practical control and the chance to opt out at any time while allowing dormant supporters to stay connected until they’re ready to give again, or not, as they wish.

When it comes to regular giving, many people happily support a lot of charities with a small regular gift that they soon forget and scarcely miss. How many causes will the average donor be willing to opt in to? Many fewer than he or she might willingly support. If a model based on, say, 10 percent annual attrition suddenly has to replace, say, 30 percent of donors or more, it will quickly become unviable and atrophy. Seriously, do the sums. Some charities have estimated that, if obliged to go the opt-in route, they will lose 50 percent to 85 percent of their donors. New donor acquisition is so expensive now. If retention (by providing a better donor experience) should be the new acquisition, where’s the sense in opt-in?

What’s more, many fundraisers assume that, under opt in, regular giving will continue as before because direct debit payments can be expected to arrive automatically. But fundraisers won’t be able to contact donors who have not opted in to receive communications informing them about what the charity has done with their gifts. Who does that help? As many donors happily let their direct debits run indefinitely, most who don’t hear from the charity will assume they’re either ungrateful or can’t be bothered to acknowledge their gifts, or they’ll simply forget about their giving entirely. How can this be in the interests of a good donor experience? Plus, as ‘silent’ electronic renewal seems to fly directly in the face of the new regulations it’s not clear to me how those donors who simply give electronically automatically will be treated in the future. If regular direct debit donors have to opt in too, the current funding model for many charities seems perilously vulnerable.

What should we do about it?
As a private individual with interest in and experience of this, I’ve written at length directly to both the Information Commissioner and the head of policy at the Fundraising Regulator. Both have responded helpfully, confirming my belief that they’re open and well-intentioned. When I’ve had their formal responses, I’ll publish them, if appropriate.

Meanwhile, at the suggestion of the ICO’s group manager of corporate governance, I have added my comments to the consultation process. These are predicated on concern about a specific point in both the ICO’s and the Fundraising Regulator’s guidance, which states that opting in “is the ‘clearest’ and ‘safest’ form of consent”. Prior to this we had hoped that charities might avoid the catastrophe that will be opt in by following the “legitimate interest” route. This concern is real because many trustee boards will now be telling their management teams, “Ah, we’d better now follow the advice and go for the safest, clearest route”.

I attach the essence of my contribution, below, from here to the penultimate paragraph. I didn’t have much to say on their first two questions.

3. Do you have any examples of consent in practice, good or bad, that you think would be useful to include in the guidance?

While not quite “consent in practice” as you have defined it, the following is a 30-year prime example of getting it right for donors and for the cause they support. The Camphill Village Trust’s system for offering donors effective and practical control of what they receive (known as continuous donor choice) can be seen here.

4. Does the guidance cover the right issues about consent under the GDPR? What do you believe is missing?

I would like to see a clear statement of equal weight being given to the “legitimate interest” route, which involves practical schemes offering donors control of their relationships with charities via a tailored, donor-friendly opt-out system. By so firmly favouring opt in the ICO will inevitably encourage charities to take the opt-in route, which may have massive unforeseen consequences and could destroy donor-based fundraising for many organisations, leading instead to many more scatter-gun, mass-marketing approaches and greatly reduced income for charities and their beneficiaries

5. Please provide any further comments or suggestions on our draft guidance.

Most fundraisers don’t understand why the ICO and the Fundraising Regulator are so obsessed with consent.

For donors, consent is a red herring. I doubt if any donor anywhere is even slightly concerned whether a charity has legally defined consent to contact them. Surely it has, or at least once had, from receipt of their first gift? If after that initial gift donors are immediately given an easy, instant way to withdraw or modify that consent then the issue is not going to trouble anyone.

Donors want and need practical and effective control of the relationship they have from then on with the causes they wish to support. Donors do not want charity fundraising to be severely damaged in the process of obtaining for them something they neither want nor need, nor can use.

Advising that opt in is the preferred or recommended route for charities will have potentially catastrophic effects on charities’ ability to do direct fundraising with donors. An effective but already challenging and finely balanced financial model seems likely to become unviable for all but the most fortunate and well-resourced fundraising charities.

Rather than focusing on consent and how that is or isn’t achieved, the regulators might have been better to have focused on what is the right practice for donors, that will deliver the right donor experience without damaging the prospects for future fundraising and thus the lives of millions of beneficiaries and the countless worthwhile causes that all depend on effective charity fundraising.

There are other methods of offering donors choice and control of how they are communicated with. With continuous donor choice (CDC) clear, unambiguous consent for a follow-up communication comes initially from the donor’s first gift. Clear, visible and regular ongoing restatement of the data subject’s rights, options and freedoms are an integral part of continuous donor choice, including with all subsequent communications the opportunity to terminate all contact entirely or to choose from a menu of other communications options. If the regulators’ requirements were to be designed with the donor’s interests in mind, CDC should meet all of them.

The only factor that seems to be driving the UK’s voluntary sector into the tragedy of opt in is that continuous donor choice opt out does not satisfy a lawyer’s definition of consent. But is this what the regulators should be focusing on? Is this what donors want? Surely not, if the effects of opt in on regular and single gift giving will be as damaging as seems likely and if an acceptable, proven, donor-friendly alternative already exists?

The ICO and the Fundraising Regulator should show that they are committed to finding the best way forward for donors and the UK voluntary sector, by:

  • Recognising that they need to revisit the language they have used in their guidance, and so qualify their earlier announcement that opting in “is the ‘clearest’ and ‘safest’ form of consent”.
  • Issuing a new statement indicating that an acceptable and legal alternative exists in the form of “legitimate interest”, which will allow charities to contact previous donors and offer them appropriate and clear choices. Continuous donor choice is just one such scheme.
  • An understanding from the regulators of the principles and effects of inertia, how it affects individual behaviour and how it works in large groups of customers and donors. There is accepted evidence from behavioural scientists on this. There is also considerable evidence that past, apparently deeply lapsed, donors can reactivate themselves many years later, without ever thinking that they have stopped supporting “their” charity.
  • Modelling of the likely effects of the imposition of opt in should be done, to show what its impact will be over time on donors, on charities’ regular giving income, single gift income and supporter numbers. Legacy income will also be adversely affected.
  • Instead of making an arbitrary definition of consent the be-all and end-all, donors should be canvassed for their views and for what they would find acceptable and reasonable in terms of their control and participation in determining the relationship they should have with causes they have chosen to support.
  • Charities should be given time and encouragement to set up a donor-focused opt-out system (such as continuous donor choice or similar) and show how it works over time, with different groups of donors. This is a real, viable and legal alternative and should be described as such. If it is not, that would seem to be a serious infringement of charities’ ability to trade.

Here my contribution to the ICO’s consultation process ends. The above points have the status of mere suggestions and requests. But I hope they’ll be just a start that stimulates additional concerted and united opposition from all in our sector to the unnecessary, unhelpful calamity for causes and donors that will be opt in.

© Ken Burnett 2017

Fundraising AT people is all wrong. Here’s why.

The basic problem with much of fundraising today is that we fundraise AT people.

Should we start by thinking of donors as existing to meet the charity’s needs? Or should we start by thinking about donors’ needs and aspirations? (And if we do, there’s every reason to believe we’ll raise more for the charity, too.) If the latter, we would behave very differently, particularly in how we treat donors.

The charity does important work. It needs money. So it employs fundraisers. They use ‘techniques’, even ‘products’, to raise money. Lord Grade regards donors as consumers.

This is the wrong approach.

The whole point of a charity is to identify need, identify people who want to do something about the need, and bring them together. The charity is the conduit. Basically, that is all.

So what is really the difference?

Take the telephone. An amazing tool that enables fundraisers to engage with donors in real time. Thank them. Engage them. Ask them questions. Find out about them. Let them ask questions, so they can find out about you. Make them aware of the difference they are making. Make them feel good. And, surely, sometimes, (not always), tell them they could make an even greater difference by increasing their monthly gift, or making an additional gift.

And feel good about it.

Many, maybe even most, fundraisers make great use of this, and I applaud them for it. Not all fundraisers see the telephone as an extractive process, far from it. But a significant minority see it differently and think about it differently too. The rest of us should unite to help them change to a donor-based approach.

Regular readers of my blogs know my touchstone. Every communication with a donor should leave them feeling better after the communication than before it. They will be made to feel good about what they give before the phone call. They will feel even better after it. They will have been given an opportunity to speak, and feel listened to. They will have been given an opportunity to listen, and feel more engaged. They will feel terrific that they have committed to do even more by upgrading their monthly gift. They will go to bed happy knowing that they are making a real difference to the world. This will be important to them: after their health and their family, and most probably their work, but significant in their lives for sure. They will continue their support. Willingly, not because of pressure.

Is this what happens? No, not by a million miles. Donors too often are the victims of telephone fundraising rather than having a chance to appreciate and benefit from it. I cannot believe it, but the standards state that you ‘MUST NOT ask for a donation more than three times during that call.’ Not two. Or four.

How far is this thinking removed from what I described above? It’s a totally, fundamentally, different approach to fundraising. I have picked on the telephone, but only as example.

As fundraisers become more ‘professional’, they learn ‘techniques’ for organising ‘activities’. 1, 2, 3.

Fundraising managers recruit fundraisers in their own likeness. These fundraisers become managers, and themselves recruit. Whole fundraising departments are built up with every-one speaking the same language. A vicious circle. They go to conferences and seminars and they meet fundraisers from other charities who also talk the same language. They create a mutually reinforcing belief that this is the right way of looking at fundraising.

And when The Daily Mail exposes appalling practice, somehow The Daily Mail becomes the villain.

Sometimes, at a conference, they will hear Ken Burnett or someone espousing a quite different approach. People will applaud loudly, say ‘ah, yes’, and then revert to type.

This behaviour is endorsed, and indeed fuelled, by those at the top of the charity.


Short-term financial targets

Everything revolves around short-term financial targets. Long-term health is measured by the performance of the reserves.

This makes the role of the fundraising director clear. So she can manage, and appraise, her fundraising teams.

Have you raised your income target within your expenditure budget? If so, you get a salary increase.

It’s simple. Everyone is on the same song-sheet. It’s clear. It’s measurable, so it must be good.

It is based on the premise that the role of the fundraiser is, of course, to raise funds. So annual budgets are set for expenditure and income. Department by department. Maybe fundraiser by fundraiser. Sometimes monitored monthly. Variances must be explained. Corrective action must be identified and articulated. CEOs, SMTs and trustees need to be convinced this action is enough.

If you’re down on your budget, what options do you have? Recruit more donors? They wouldn’t add net income in the year. Organise a telethon? Pie-in-the-sky. So there is nothing left but to ask your donors for more money, or your volunteers to raise it. They are the means to your end. To convince your trustees that you have a plan, so they won’t have to think about cutting services, or even drawing on the precious reserves.

Activities are measured by short term results. You do a mailing. It raises x. You do another mailing. It raises x + y. That must be better. Regardless of any other factors.

Some charities employ whole teams in the analysis of results and the segmentation of donors. To the Nth degree. Does ‘mail’ perform better than ‘telephone’? Files of spreadsheets. (Nothing wrong with that, per se, if it means fundraising is more efficient. But it should inform, not drive, fundraising.)

A prospective major donor may take two years’ of relationship building, in order to optimise her gift. Yet major donor fundraisers are also assessed against annual targets.

Donors and volunteers as a means to the end? I have seen the TORs of a major national charity’s national volunteer board, in its opening paragraph, state that their role is: ”to support the charity’s executive with aspects of the operational delivery of the fundraising plan.” Absolutely nothing about helping the beneficiaries.

Everything I have written above reinforces the view of fundraising as an activity, transactional, which is done to donors, to help fundraising departments to raise the money needed to keep the charity delivering its activities. Put like that, it almost seems reasonable.

It isn’t.

Fundraising doesn’t have to start with using pressure on donors to achieve short term targets. It can start with understanding donors.

Donor motivations. Philanthropy, affinity, social recognition and mutual benefit. Requiring nuanced judgment. An understanding of psychology. Listening. Getting them wrong. Misreading their clues. Also getting them right. Building on what they say. Judging whether to put on more pressure, or less.

Creating a mailing. Not following a process. ‘15 ‘asks’ on the first page’, because it works. But start in a different place. How is the donor feeling? What is the last request she gave to? Have we reported back on the impact of that gift? Will she feel she has made a difference? Will she be willing to give again? What would inspire her? How could we articulate a new need that she could be part of the solution to? (If it is appropriate, which will be often, but not always. Every communication from a charity should not be greeted with ‘another appeal’.)

And this individual thinking needs to be applied to huge swathes of donors.

The Commission on the Donor Experience

Many of the Commission’s outputs will seem obvious. Common sense. So obvious, people will say, ‘Of course we’re already doing that.’

The Commission is based on a premise. If you give a donor a great experience of supporting their charity, she will give more, in the short, medium and long term and be more likely to leave a legacy.

It sounds obvious. And the Commission will give literally hundreds of very specific things to do to make it real.

The Commission’s outputs, once they have been beta tested, will be as good as all our commissioners, project owners, contributors, reviewers, workshop attendees and enthusiasts can make them.

But we must not underestimate the challenge of making them real.

Our aim is not to transform fundraising, by changing the way we do things round here, our aim is to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. And therefore this isn’t just about changing the way we behave, but also about changing the way we think.

And that is very hard.

Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” on display at the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibit: “Rodin: Transforming Sculpture.” (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Let me give you an example.

For the NSPCC’s Full Stop Appeal, (a while ago now, but never beaten), the whole philosophy was to hand the target of £250,000,000 over to volunteers. The job of staff was to help and support the volunteers reach their targets.
Simple? No.

It meant the staff letting go of their targets. Surely they’d be delighted? No longer shackled by an annual income target? No. Many couldn’t comprehend. In corporate partnerships, the excellent Elaine Dodds understood, but asked for the help of Nick Booth and myself to a full day away-day to help the corporate fundraising team to understand the 90° shift. No individual targets, but an emphasis on team working, within corporate fundraising and across all fundraising departments, to support the volunteers and give them a great experience. All this replicated across 400 staff. It eventually worked. We, (the volunteers), raised £274,000,000.

The targets for the Commission’s outputs
I am often asked: “Who is the key audience for your outputs?” I say there isn’t one. They say: “So everyone?” I again say no. It is a number of very specific audiences.

Trustees and their chairs. For example, what do they measure? Cash out and cash in? Performance against budget? Monthly cash flow? What about measures of the donor experience? Donor satisfaction? What else? A whole project is looking at measurement.

CEOs are vital. If a CEO puts undue pressure on his or her fundraising director to meet annual expenditure/income budgets, and this causes the fundraising director to put undue pressure on the charity’s donors and that pressure gives the donor a bad experience and stops the donor giving in the future, then the CEO’s action will have been short-termism. Again, hard to prove, but again, I would suggest, obvious. We may know direct debit cancellation rates, as fundraisers, but how many of us report them to CEOs and trustees? And their movement, up or down? And, if up, be asked for an explanation? As rigorously as we would be questioned on an underperformance against the annual income budget?

Finance directors are important. They like numbers. We must give them additional ones, just as important as cash in the year, which is such a crude and inadequate measure of the long term financial health of the organisation.

All SMTs and their members are key. Service directors manage staff who must see a part of their role to inspire donors.

So this must be bottom up as well as top down. There are many examples of where the switchboard operator or the receptionist have influenced considerable gifts.

If the implementation of the Commission’s outputs are to become real, it can’t just be about fundraisers and their managers. If it were, the culture change simply wouldn’t happen.

What gives me hope? One able fundraising director, armed with the Commission’s outputs, could drive change at SMT. One CEO, who thinks about income longer term, could make his or her mark on the whole charity. One trustee, persistently asking the same questions, could initiate a transformation. One finance director, seeing measurement in a more diverse way, could actually become an enthusiastic advocate.

Then, the language will change. Within the charity. Within the sector.

This is all going to take time.

Giles Pegram CBE
© Giles Pegram CBE 2017

Simply the Best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q1 2017)

Here we are, folks… the first Top 10 of 2017. Great stuff, as always! Looks like there’s a lot of interest in digital — as it should be!

(1) 2017 Digital Outlook Report: 62 percent of nonprofits have no digital program – Meg Gardner

(2) Resourcing out-of-hours social media – Kirsty Marrins

(3) Podcast: Fundraising as a route to peace building – The Resource Alliance

(4) Has fundraising moved forwards, or backwards, in the last 50 years? And where next? – Giles Pegram

(5) NEW research on fundraiser-donor relationships: What part of ‘broken’ don’t we understand? – Paul Vanags

(6) 12 insights from the crystal ball: Get your fundraising ready for the future – Matthew Sherrington

(7) Fundraisers, Meet the Millennials: The Top 3 Mistakes You’re Making – Clay Boggess

(8) Hail the all-powerful Rock! -Bill Toliver

(9) How to fix face-to-face fundraising – Charlie Hulme

(10) Is there plenty of room on your fundraising island? – Marc Pitman

You are more than welcome to re-publish these blog posts elsewhere. If you do, please add that it “has been published prior on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising” with a link to our crowdblog. We’d appreciate it if you inform us. Thanks!

Source: Google Analytics 1 Jan 2017 – 30 March 2017. Questions? E-mail us.

Podcast: Fundraising as a route to peace building

Neichute Doulo, CEO of Entrepreneurs Associates, was named India’s 2016 Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. The Naga movement, one of the oldest unresolved armed conflicts in the world, has hampered economic development in the north-eastern region of India. As one of the main architects of EA, an organisation dedicated to youth empowerment through promotion of entrepreneurship for the last 16 years, Neichute has been instrumental in shaping the way Nagas view entrepreneurship. Under his leadership, EA has successfully launched the first generations of Naga and Manipuri entrepreneurs, built up vibrant local markets, catalysed local production, generated local jobs, activated financial institutions, and steered government will to demonstrate that entrepreneurship can be the route to peace building.

Neichute was the opening keynote speaker at the International Workshop on Resource Mobilisation, delivered by The Resource Alliance India in January. Here, we speak with Neichute about building peace through fundraising.

2017 Digital Outlook Report: 62 percent of nonprofits have no digital program

It seems kind of staggering, no? Nonetheless, that’s the finding from the third annual Digital Outlook Report, a joint effort of Care2, hjc, NTEN and The Resource Alliance.

The theme of this year’s report is “Advance Your Nonprofit’s Game to the Next Level.” It very helpfully shapes its findings into strategic information for organisations no matter where they’re at with their digital program.

“This year, after analyzing more than 530 survey responses from around the world, we found that the shape, structure, sophistication, and focus of each nonprofit organisation’s digital program is completely unique,” Mike Johnston, president of hjc, explained in a press release announcing the report’s debut. “With this in mind, we couldn’t make general pan-sector recommendations that would be appropriate and actionable for every organisation. Each organisation is simply too unique, with different levels of digital maturity.”

Based on the report’s sample of organisations from around the world, most nonprofits — 63 percent — have no digital program at all (level 1), 32 percent use basic digital programs (level 2), and only 6 percent use advanced digital programs (level 3).

Design vector created by Freepik

For the report’s purposes, a digital program is defined as “having a digital strategy, a staff member dedicated to digital strategy, measurement and tracking of key performance indicators, program analysis, plus having defined their user personas.”

Only half of all respondents had staff on-hand who were dedicated to digital strategy, the report found.

The report lays out goals and incorporates detailed case studies to show nonprofits how to achieve an efficient digital strategy tailored to their respective organisations.

“Many organisations are still getting started with digital, and that’s OK,” The Resource Alliance CEO Kyla Shawyer explains. “Everyone has to start somewhere, so you’ll be starting at Level 1 in this report. Others are slightly farther down the digital path, making improvements along the way, advancing to level 2. The final few are bravely uncovering digital best practices and generously sharing your failures and success. Level 3 is for you.” 

Care2’s Ryann Miller and hjc’s Mike Johnston will be presenting the report on Saturday, 25 March, at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D.C. You can check it out here. Give it a read, then come back and share your thoughts!

Interested in past reports?

2016 Digital Outlook Report

2015 Digital Outlook Report





Resourcing out-of-hours social media

When I wrote about how charities are missing out on valuable conversations on Twitter that take place out of hours and that they need to be flexible when it comes to managing their social media accounts, what I didn’t address was how exactly charities should be doing this.

I didn’t address it because there are very few charities that actually have an out-of-hours policy in place. I spoke to a number of social media managers, and it’s evident that apart from a few of the larger charities such as the RNLI that have a dedicated out-of-hours policy where staff work rota shifts and claim TOIL, the majority undertake out-of-hours work without any kind of guidelines in place. However this is only one part of the problem. Many charities only have one person dedicated to managing their social media and sometimes this is part of an even wider communications role, so a rota type policy simply wouldn’t work for them.

Many said that they did out of hours because they understand that social media is not 9- to 5 and, being digital people, they do it almost out of a passion for their job. Whilst this is commendable, it’s not sustainable. Charities have a duty of care to their staff and as such they do need to address this issue. Sadly, some said that their managers still don’t see the value of social media and are actually unaware of the out-of-hours work involved.

This needs to change.

Facebook and Twitter have been around for over 10 years now, so it’s imperative to address this issue and stop burying our heads in the sand. If senior managers are unaware of the out-of-hours work and the value it adds, then it’s up to those responsible for social media to bring it to their attention and offer solutions.

Five ways charities can address out-of-hours social media work:

1.) Have it in job descriptions and pay accordingly. Just as many press roles have out-of-hours duties in their job descriptions, so too should social media roles. If this is a requirement of the role, then pay should be reflected accordingly and expectations of the role should be clear and transparent at the outset. Of course, this solution works best if there are at least two people in the social media team or who have social media as part of their role.

2.) TOIL (time off in lieu). Again, this only really works in practice if there is more than one social media person as any accrued TOIL is unlikely to be used. The problem with being under-resourced is that there is no one to cover when the social media person is off, so TOIL is rarely taken. Whilst this is an option, it’s not advisable.

3.) Paid out-of hours. Whilst it’s not the ideal scenario, this could work for those who are one-man social media bands as at least they would be paid for the out-of-hours work they are already doing. Of course, work/life balance and issues of burnout still need to be considered and addressed accordingly.

4.) Flexible working hours. To me, this is by far the best solution for managing out-of-hours work. Social media managers should have flexibility over the hours they work – just as social media is not 9 to 5, neither is their job. Any social media manager will tell you that engagement on social media during the week is at its peak early morning (as people commute to work) and between 7pm to 10pm and over weekends. One charity told me that they see more engagement on social media on a Sunday than any other day of the week. It makes sense, therefore, to let them manage their own hours accordingly and fit their seven hours a day around these peak times. Of course, this will also require a flexible attitude from the charity to allowing staff to work from home.

5.) Trained staff. Social media shouldn’t just be the remit of the digital/comms/social media team or person. Everyone who works for a charity should be trained in how to use it for their own personal brand, their professional development, and to help amplify the charity’s work through their personal social media accounts. Macmillan is a great example of this – all staff are encouraged to have personal, yet professional, Twitter accounts where they can increase the reach of the charity’s fundraising events, policy work and key messages by retweeting from the Macmillan account or posting their own tweets. The more staff that are trained in social media (or at least in moderating it) means that those directly responsible for it have more flexibility in order to take TOIL or work in an out-of-hours rota shift.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to resourcing out of hours social media, but you should find that one of these options applies to your charity, no matter how big or small your social media team is.


Video: Innovative social entrepreneur talks about collaboration

No doubt, the power of consumer spending is undeniable. Aliza “Alice” Napartivaumnuay, co-founder of Socialgiver, has harnessed that power to create a movement to support social change around the world. Socialgiver is an online giving ecosystem that sells products and services from leading brands at exclusive rates. When consumers spend on Socialgiver, their money directly supports local social projects that are creating meaningful impact.

Alice’s philosophy is that sustainable change must happen through public participation. “Balancing the social and business side is very important,” she explains in a profile on Connecting Founders. “It’s not just the social aspect. You need to see it as a business and run it like one. The financial, technical and marketing aspects alongside the operations of being consumer centric are all very important. Social enterprises need to be sustainable ourselves in order to create the change that we wish to see in the world.”

Alice will facilitate the opening keynote at IFC Asia, where the theme is Beyond fundraising: Innovative collaboration for the future, taking place in Bangkok in June. (You can register here.)

Listen in as Alice talks about the importance of collaboration and sustainability during an interview with Esther Kwaku, director of communications and marketing at The Resource Alliance.



Is there plenty of room on your fundraising island?

A while back, Seth Godin wrote about there being plenty of room on the island. He observed that authors regularly recommend other authors even though an MBA program would call them “competitors.” It’s a great reminder that most of life is not a zero sum game.

Competition isn’t really competition

A new executive director I was coaching recently told me she’d been called by a potential donor. As she listened to the impact he wanted his gift to have, she realized a different nonprofit existed that more directly fit the donor’s goals. So she thanked the donor, explained that another similar organization would likely be a better fit, and gave him that executive director’s contact information.

She knew that there was plenty of room on the island. And she was clear enough on her mission to know when a gift would be better aligned somewhere else.

Angering the board

But she was worried she’d done the wrong thing. She also knew her board might be angry with her. Especially because the nonprofit needed money.

I assured her that her actions spoke wonderfully about her character. And that she’d now moved closer to being a trusted advisor to the donor. He knew she would care about his values over her organization’s potential gain. And she just set herself apart with the other executive director.

As I recall, the other executive director really didn’t know what to do when the donor called. She’d been a leader for a long time but had never had another “competing” nonprofit leader refer a donor to her.

The interesting twist

In the end, the donor decided to give to my client. He accepted the fact that this organization would use his gift a little differently than he’d originally thought, but her leadership earned his trust.

So how about you? Is there plenty of room on your fundraising island? Remember, fundraising is not from a diminishing pie.

Hail the all-powerful Rock!

When I was a kid I had the fortune to grow up in the deserts of the Middle East. A place that was brilliantly interesting, but not particularly hospitable to life — especially the life of a pasty white kid.

While living there I became a bit of a student of Bedouin culture, as I was fascinated to see how a community of people can thrive in such a challenging place.

One of the first things a Bedouin will teach you about surviving in the desert is that you must never travel without having some sort of landmark to guide your journey. Each of us has a dominant leg, and without some sort of “rock on the horizon” it is almost certain that someone trying to traverse the desert sands will, instead, walk in a huge circle. Each small step seeming perfectly “right” as it is taken, but over time, when added up, ultimately leading one unconsciously astray.

With that rock in your sights, though, the exact opposite will happen  —you will make countless subconscious adjustments in which each step brings you ever closer to the goal.

Recently it has struck me how useful this premise can be to life in general.

The Rock can help make sense of life

In particular, it has always felt like an especially good metaphor for the challenges faced by the leaders of civil society and social impact organizations. Leading a nonprofit these days is all about finding a way to overcome the many subconscious forces that subtly and unintentionally — but nevertheless inevitably — can to lead us astray.

The constant pressure of securing resources from donors who we have trained to behave more like shoppers, rather than people willing to commit to a cause. The ever-present need to manage the ratios between program costs and overhead. The perpetual ringing in our ears that we must “… behave more like a business.” And let’s not forget the vitally important major donor or board member who loves to give you unsolicited advice about what he or she would like to see in your next case for support or print ad.

Continually addressing each of these tactical pressures is, of course, necessary for success. But do we just have to accept that each of these countless distractions will inevitably pull us slightly but inevitably away from our raison d’ etre? Must we find ourselves veering off yet again in a continuous circle? Or is it possible that even these seeming “necessary evils” can help drive us even more surely toward our mission?

The answer is it depends.

The Rock can be your spiritual guide

It depends on whether or not you, the people with whom you serve, and the people who support you in that service can all clearly see that rock on the horizon. Whether or not it was a deep and abiding commitment to that rock that brought you all together in the first place. Whether or not your distance from the rock is the strongest measure of everything you do.

There is no question that you will have to traverse mountain ranges, and navigate your way through valleys and broad expanses of barren land on your journey. There will be times when there are no apparent sources of nourishment. Yet if you always keep your eye on that landmark, you will get there.

So it is worth taking a moment to do a mental inventory. To think about that rock in context to the work you do each day.

Think about the things you do that were never part of any original plan or founding principle. Things that you subtly, subconsciously (but oh so surely) walked your way into as you were responding to this week’s headlines, a shift in the economic winds, or a change in the political landscape.

Ask yourself how many of the things you do each day are “sacred” — at the very heart of your mission? Now think about how many of the things you do that are merely habitual — that have begun to take on the characteristics of something sacred, but actually distract you from the end goal?

The process of taking that mental inventory is the first step to clearing the fog and haze from around that rock. Bringing it back into focus.

Then start asking yourself how you can get everyone to see that rock again.

The Rock will give you the courage to do what is right

You will find that the process of doing so creates quite an interesting paradox. It creates something that is both refreshing and exciting, yet at the same time intuitively obvious.

More often than not, you will find that refocusing on the landmark does not require a radical change in focus or commitment. Instead, it is more a process of giving people permission to do what they instinctively know is right. To lead rather than follow. To act rather than react.

Then move from a mental inventory to a physical one. Look at everything you say and do. Reread your website and your case for giving. Ask yourself about the last op-ed or speech you delivered. Are they all setting the right context? Regardless of the story they tell, is your “rock on the horizon” the obvious moral to that story?

Look at your operations team, your partnerships and board membership. Is everyone there for the right reason? Are they all on the same journey to the same destination?

Then start moving your organization forward. Over obvious mountains and through inevitable valleys, but always toward the only destination that matters.

Jim Collins wrote a very useful compendium to his best-selling book “Good to Great”. Here’s a link to “Good to Great for the Social Sector” on Amazon. I highly recommend it as a quick and very useful read.


Arm(adillo) yourself to engage with donors

I made eye contact with an armadillo the other day. Well, I was staring at it, and I admit it might have been folly to think it was doing anything more than looking past me and thinking about whatever it is armadillos think about. Despite living in the deep south here in the US, I’d never seen one alive before. Taxidermied, yes. Carved from wood with the Texas star painted on its side … replicated as a cuddly toy … flattened on the side of the road … yes, yes, and yes. But never alive, and just, well, standing there. Brazen little bugger, it was.

It reminded me of a conversation that I had quite a while ago, a conversation that has stayed with me and that I have written about before. It was at a dinner during a nonprofit conference in New York, with the then-director of development at an organization dedicated to eradicating leprosy. He was entertaining, quietly charming, and clearly passionate about his cause. At one point during pre-dinner cocktails with a few dozen other fundraisers, he shared that at any given time, there are about 5,000 known cases of leprosy in the United States.

“Most of them are caused by armadillos,” he said.

The holding area of the trendy NYC restaurant where we were sitting was packed to the point of being uncomfortable. A throng of fundraisers huddled together chatting, laughing, on somewhat silly, low-sitting chairs near the front door as harried servers maneuvered their way through the maze of bodies, serving drinks and ushering people to tables. But at the point when my dinner-mate made his armadillo proclamation (as matter-of-factly, I might add, as if he were announcing his entrée selection or wine preference) it seemed that all conversation faded out, the wine glasses stopped clinking, and even the traffic outside was temporarily silenced. I was riveted.

Armadillos … who knew?

Armadillos? Really?

Apparently, armadillos are the only animals besides humans that can carry leprosy. Then he continued to amaze (and, frankly, somewhat sicken) me further by explaining that folks, particularly in the southern US states where armadillos hang out, eat the weird, thick-skinned critters and expose themselves to the disease. Who knew? (Doing a little post-conference research, I found out that while the risk is low, humans also can be exposed to the leprosy bacteria by touching or killing armadillos or even by gardening in soil where they burrow.)

True,  leprosy (aka Hansen’s Disease) is still relatively rare in the United States, is very treatable, not highly transmissible from human to human, and with early diagnosis and treatment is neither disabling nor life-threatening. Problem is, of course, that many people in developing countries where leprosy is more prevalent don’t have access to the care that can keep it from becoming devastating.

My point is that this guy had a story that he knew would grab people. I made him tell it to everyone who gravitated to our little group. I posted it on Facebook, and I told almost literally everyone I talked to for months following the conference. And I’m still talking about it. Sometimes I wait  for a break in an already-going armadillo conversation (I live in Texas; it happens more than you might think) to tell it, but mostly I work it into everyday conversations (“Oh, yes, I can see where that proposal would be a tough sell, and speaking of tough shells …”).

And more importantly, the story intrigued me so much that I did further research on the disease, which on some level I guess I considered to be biblical — a long-ago plague that had gone the way of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. (And, yes, I did make a donation.)

What about your stories? Are you telling them? And telling them in such a way that they grab people and don’t let go? The power of storytelling in fundraising is undeniable. You know that, but it bears repeating.

Walking a tight rope well: 5 ways progressive nonprofits can use risk management to succeed in uncertain times

“Organizations face internal and external actors and influences that make it uncertain whether, when, and the extent to which they will achieve or exceed their objectives. The effect this uncertainty has on the organization’s objectives is risk.”

Like it or not, the year ahead will be risky for all nonprofits with a progressive vision for change. At times, it will feel scary, like we are walking a tight rope with no net in sight. 

The 2016 election cast into sharp relief the intense challenges that the US faces as a country — soaring income and wealth inequality, racism and xenophobia, climate disaster, and threats to our democracy. More important, it put our ideological divides front and center. Are Muslims (all one billion of “them”) and immigrants the cause of our financial woes? Or did globalization, technological advancement and deregulation “steal” our jobs? Are we a post-racial country, where everyone has access to The American Dream? Or does past and current discrimination in the housing and financial markets still dictate who does and does not gets ahead? And, how will we navigate in a “post-truth” environment, where who speaks seems to be more relevant than data or fact?

The goal of this post is not to answer these BIG questions but rather to suggest a critical activity that can help us chart a path forward in these uncertain times, especially as we seek to stay in conversation with and engage our diverse constituencies. Let’s have a conversation about how to assess and manage risk. 

MANAGING RISK is something we must master, especially when it comes to funding decisions, because trade-offs are endemic to our work as nonprofits. Unlike for-profits, we have at least two bottom lines and work for diverse stakeholders whose interests are not always aligned. 

For example, some funders invest in us to protect their reputational risk. While they do care about our missions, they also care deeply about how their affiliation with our cause impacts their financial bottom line. Exxon Mobil exists to increase shareholder profits. While they may also feel a responsibility to reinvest in communities impacted by oil extraction, this is NOT their first or primary goal. 

On the other hand, our beneficiaries — the children, families and communities we are chartered to serve — invest in us to protect their livelihoods. They care deeply about our missions to help them achieve financial security, protect their health, etc. While they may also understand our need for diverse investments to fund operations and movement building activities, our solvency is NOT their first or primary goal. 

Here’s the point: When the interests of our diverse stakeholders align, it is a BEAUTIFUL thing! But when they don’t, it can be a real problem — and it’s up to us to get ahead of these challenges. 

Here are my tips for assessing and managing the risk inherent in working for multiple masters. I hope it helps you to walk the tight rope in 2017!

1. Define your non-negotiables. Before going into battle, know what is and is not negotiable for your movement and organization. This is not a platitude. You MUST define the two or three values or priorities that you will always hold dear. For example, if you cannot compromise on legislation that harms communities of color, name that. On the other hand, discern and walk away from activities that are not “must-wins.” By defining your non-negotiables BEFORE you seal the deal with any of your investors, you create a zone of safety for everyone. No one likes to be surprised!

2. Know what others expect of you. This is critically important. You must spend the time and gather the data to gain an intimate and honest understanding of WHY your stakeholders invest in you. You cannot assume that you know what makes your customers’ hearts sing. Survey your constituents. Clarify their goals and expectations. Use this data to inform your risk analysis.

3. Run the numbers. One of my favorite nonprofit maxims is, “No margin, no mission.” I hope this is obvious, but you cannot run an organization without cash, i.e. it is foolhardy to ignore the fiscal implications of any decision you make as a nonprofit leader. This is not to say that you should never walk away from a funding relationship or opportunity. (Successful — and solvent! — businesses walk away from unprofitable deals all the time.) Still, before walking away from revenue you must know the risk of exposure to funding variances and have a plan to address them up front.

4. Remember that your reputation has value too. It’s inordinately difficult to quantify, but your reputation may be one of your most important assets. While seeking to make tradeoffs between the demands of different stakeholders, don’t forget to include a valuation of your reputation in your risk management calculation. For example, a funding boon from the wrong investor may significantly compromise your integrity within your field. Remember: Without influence you will never achieve the impact you seek, and cash is not always king.

5. Your employees are another critical asset and key to your success. Good hiring practices should ensure that your people hold similar values and have clarity on your organizational goals. But a reminder of your values and priorities is always helpful, especially in a changing climate. You cannot run your operation if your employees are not aligned with your organizational values, and you should understand the risk of alienating this critical constituency. 

Working for a nonprofit is not for the faint of heart, especially in uncertain times. To manage the diverse needs and expectations of your various stakeholders, you must be able to assess and manage risk. Please know that risk management is an art and science and there is no way to predict the perfect path. That said, just as in any investment decision, you’ll have the best chances of success if you do your homework BEFORE taking critical steps. By working hard to discern the up and downsides of your actions and including all your assets in your calculation, you’ll be best poised to get to the other side and come out on top.


Do something different and try something… old!

It’s not easy being a fundraiser at the best of times. But in the current market, the pressures and expectations on fundraising organisations can have a huge impact on our workforce at all levels. What can charities do to help ease the burden and ensure a more positive working culture?

Alongside workplaces from Google to the NHS, charities are increasingly turning to mindfulness techniques to improve organisational cultures and performance. It’s an age-old discipline that has more recently helped individuals and organisations cope more effectively with modern-day challenges, and for fundraisers in the current challenging climate, it can be particularly powerful.

Why mindfulness?
Ultimately, mindfulness is about increasing awareness of ourselves and our impact on those around us. Evidence shows it increases resilience, emotional intelligence and communication — all key attributes for good fundraising. It also enables us to become better listeners, to be more in tune with our own emotional responses, urges, habits and behaviours, helping us to consider more appropriate and skilful responses rather than simply reacting to events.

One of the best-known tools for mindfulness is meditation, and I have to confess that this doesn’t come naturally to me. I tried some sessions, but frankly I was impatient for something to happen. I expected it to be an immediate life-changing moment, and of course it wasn’t.

But I’ve since realised that the trick is to avoid focusing on the results. Observe your thoughts, don’t try and fix or change them — although for a goal-oriented person like myself, this can be easier said than done.

Perhaps the best way to think about mindfulness is as a preparation tool, helping bring about the best frame of mind and set the best conditions for self-aware action, whether that is planning, talking, thinking or doing.

Putting mindfulness into action when fundraising
If you think about conversations with potential supporters, all sorts of things can come into play if the wrong intention is sitting behind an ask. A fundraiser may be worried about meeting his or her targets, or driven by the instant gratification of getting someone to give. These subconscious messages often come through.

With increased self-awareness, fundraisers are better equipped to act in line with their own individual and organisational values. It helps people stay calm — not to push for an answer in any direction, but to really listen and trust that the best parts of us will come through, recognising that the emphasis shouldn’t be on one isolated conversation.

And in the workplace, mindfulness is often seen to have a multiplying effect, improving productivity and impacting not only those who practice, but all those around them, creating a more self-aware work space and, as a result, a healthier culture.

Like anything else, mindfulness needs practice. Meditation — the foundation of mindfulness — may not appeal to every individual, and so there are other techniques to try like writing reflective journals or generally focusing on becoming more “awake” to the present — what is happening now.

Getting started
If you haven’t given it a try, the challenge is often how to get started. At an organisational level, some charities offer regular mindfulness groups or meditation sessions, while others such as Oxfam have incorporated mindfulness as part of specific leadership development programmes. But mindfulness in the charity sector workplace is still something of a rarity.

So the next time you’re facing a decision, when you’re about to begin a meeting or switch to a new task or campaign, take a moment to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Think about the decisions you’re making in the moment and the impact they may have now and in the future. Then review how you responded, what you felt and did. What was different?

Mastering an increased level of awareness may not happen overnight, but — with the potential to seed a new era of more emotionally intelligent, responsive and resilient fundraisers — it is certainly something that the sector could be taking more seriously. And if you’d like the opportunity to experience meditation with a highly experienced practitioner and discuss how we can nurture, develop and change organisational culture then book a place at our evening event on March 28th in Central London in partnership with the Resource Alliance.

Find out more here.

Has fundraising moved forwards, or backwards, in the last 50 years? And where next?

Let me start with a short eulogy, then quote some of what I, and many others, believe are the wisest words ever said about fundraising, before leaving you with a question: How much of this is relevant now?

November 2016 marked the centenary of Harold Sumption’s birth. Harold was, without doubt, the biggest influence on a generation of British fundraisers, perhaps the first generation that was evolving into the new profession of modern fundraising. At the start of 2017 it seems appropriate that we review the implications of what he said and did on the next hundred years.

Ken Burnett and I were lucky enough to both work with Harold in the late 1970s and 1980s. We became friends because of the most profound impact Harold had on our professional lives, and of what Harold said. At the time, it was revolutionary. This was before the notion of “professional fundraisers,” before the Institute of Fundraising or the International Fundraising Congress. For many younger fundraising professionals, this will seem archaic.

The Commission on the Donor Experience (CDE) is as much about old thinking as new thinking. Many of its principles and recommendations are, even unknowingly, based on the work of Harold Sumption. By all means, ignore his thinking, but don’t miss it because you’re unaware of it.

Before I talk about Harold, let me mention one specific.

“Make a blind man see. £10”
One of his most famous press advertisements was an off-the-page ad which said, “Make a blind man see. £10.” In today’s money, that would be over £100. A newspaper ad with a cash ask of £100. Today, we wouldn’t dream of such a thing. Yet it was hugely successful. Today, we compete on price. One charity can let you help change the world for a £3 text. Another for £2. For those interested in meticulous analysis, I have just posted an analysis of this ad on UK Fundraising.

It’s still possible to learn from Harold’s words. Indeed, I would say, essential.

The charity is the agent of the donor.
The role of charity as the agent of the donor in bringing about change, and that fundraising is the process that brings donors and cause together. Like many of Harold’s aphorisms, both simple and profound.

Open their hearts, open their minds, then open their wallets.
All three, in that order. Present the need that your charity is addressing, the solution it is providing, and engage the donor in being part of that solution.

Present the need, powerfully, not to shock but to engage.
Charities have used shocking images, attracted media attention and defended them on the basis of the intensity of the problems they were tackling. But donors? They will recoil. Present the need in a way that viscerally engages the emotions of the donor by making them want to help. This is both acceptable and indeed good. Donors will feel they are making a significant difference when they give, so will have a better experience. Not just be shocked.

People give to people, not to organisations, mission statements or strategies.
People say they give to NSPCC: In fact they give to prevent a child being cruelly treated. Anyone who suggests your charity is more important than your beneficiaries should be shot.

People give more if they can relate directly to the practical result of their giving, and if they know exactly where their money is going.
Forget clever copy. Forget the successes of the charity and how many people have been helped. Harold’s words are precise and faultless. Keep the message simple: the need and what the reader can do about it.

Clever copy doesn’t work.
So much advertising today is “clever.” Puns, metaphors, allusions, ambiguities. People buying perfume may be inspired. Potential donors won’t be. So why do some among us still do it? Stop it. And stop your agencies doing it. Give sound reasons for commitment and you’ll get it.

Fundraising is not about money. It’s about important work that needs doing. If you start by asking for money, you won’t get it and you won’t deserve it.
I’ve nothing to add.

Success produces congratulations. Need produces results.
Tell that to your trustees when they ask why you aren’t presenting the great work of your charity in your fundraising. Money is the means to that end.

Produce ads that were made to look as if they had been put together by dedicated amateurs on the scullery table.
The ads looked far from prestigious: paper set, crowded with copy that anticipated the likely questions.

When I was first at NSPCC in the early 1980s, I worked with John Watson at WWAV, our direct marketing agency. Inside a cupboard, they kept an old-fashioned manual typewriter that they used for hand-typing our direct mail.

Of course the specifics have changed in 50 years and, perhaps, that wouldn’t be right, now. But the underlying principles haven’t changed. Think about the mind-set of donors when they receive your communication, and put that thinking at the heart of your communication.

Make public relations, press ads and direct mail all sing together.
How hard is it to ensure that thinking about public policy, services, communications, brand and fundraising are all joined up? Why was Harold so far ahead of the problems we are facing in 2017?

Harold Sumption was the pioneer who did it first. It worked then, it works now. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Making integration work sounds easy. It isn’t. It’s very hard work.

Those who give, give. Those that don’t, don’t.
This quote of Harold’s is often glossed over.

It deserves a blog of its own.

Many now believe that all the public are potential donors. Many of those back up their beliefs by figures from surveys. Harold’s aphorism made me question that. In research, “most” people claim they give to charity. That is what people tell us.

Of course they will say that: It’s what’s accepted. The interviewee wants to be seen as good. And then, we give the research much credibility. We accept it as the truth.

I don’t belief it and neither did Harold. There is a vast swathe of the population that doesn’t give to charity. Their reasons are the focus of debate and research. (See Ian MacQuillin’s excellent blog.)

The Daily Mail appeals to non-givers. It gives people reasons not to give. Appalling fundraising practice. Expensive headquarters buildings. CEOs’ salaries irreconcilable with my pension.

Leave them aside. You won’t convince them. Focus on the givers and on those who might be inspired to give. So often, in discussing research briefs, I hear “the public” confused with “charity donors.” A fatal flaw.

First and foremost, we shouldn’t waste time trying to convert the committed non-donors. Determined non-donors are not virgin prospects. They are a waste of time and money. And worse: They are potentially poisonous. They sow doubt in the work of charities, doubt to which we should constantly be providing contrary evidence.

Our focus on “committed non-donors” should not be about persuading them to give, but informing them fully and accurately, thus avoiding giving them the ammunition to spread poisonous counter-propaganda. Ian, head of the Rogare think tank at Plymouth University, is looking at the question of why people don’t give for his doctoral thesis. I look forward to what he finds.

The most important two words are thank you. Acknowledge every donation with a friendly, personal letter. Give larger donors special treatment.
This is a strong recommendation of CDE project 4, looking at “thank yous and welcoming.” Why would someone send you £5? Perhaps because she is a pensioner, who puts 50p aside each week, which she can hardly afford, to send £5 to your cause because she believes passionately that that’s the right thing to do. Of course she must be thanked. Both because it is morally the right thing for you to do, and because she could be living in a house that may be worth a small fortune, that might just come to you in a legacy, if you give her a good experience.

Share your failures as well as your successes.
When I was at NSPCC, a child died because a child protection officer falsified his records. We didn’t know what to do. So we wrote to our donors, told them what had happened, how we had responded and what steps we had taken to prevent it happening again. We asked for our donors’ support at this difficult time. The response was overwhelming. Our donors were on our side. They appreciated our honesty. And they gave an extraordinary amount. It wasn’t what we were expecting.

A complainant, well handled, will be your most loyal donor.
Someone cares enough to write to complain. Don’t fob them off with a standard response. “Thank you … we take all complaints very seriously … we will carefully consider your comments.” Bullshit. If they make four points, respond to each one. Be prepared to acknowledge your mistakes. Stand up for yourself if the complainant is wrong. Ask for their response. And prepare to be amazed.

Read donors’ letters.
And their comments on the donation form, where there is one. Grow to understand your donors and what they were thinking when they sent you a gift. You will be surprised. It is far more important that you understand your donors than that you spend their money getting them to understand you. Indeed, only consider doing the latter when you have thoroughly done the former. And then, go back to the writer’s comments.

Create feedback. To the very top. So that those who are making decisions about what to say to donors have listened to what donors themselves say.

And donors’ letters often contain great copy ideas.

Harold, the seasoned professional
Harold was not an amateur fundraiser. Although his obituaries talk mainly of his charity work, Harold was a seasoned commercial advertising professional. He enjoyed a key role at several innovative UK advertising agencies, including chairman of the fashionable start-up MWK in the late 1970s. He applied his great commercial experience to the world of fundraising.

He knew precisely what he was doing.

Harold Sumption was instrumental in the creation of the innovative fundraising that made Oxfam the largest charity in the UK. He believed in the role of charity as “agents” of the donor in bringing about change. And he believed that fundraising is the process that brings donor and cause together. He profoundly understood the motivations of donors but, as a highly professional advertising man, was able to develop sophisticated techniques to harness those motivations. As Harold himself said:

“Fundraising has to be the most worthwhile application of marketing skills, and one must learn all one can from commercial practice. What wonderful things charity can accomplish, and that the business is about people, families, and their lives and happiness, not just results and returns. It fired me to spread those values. Maybe it helped me write a few successful appeals in later years.”

Harold, the humble man
At NSPCC, each year we would elect about 15 people as honorary members of our Council. People who had made a great contribution to our fundraising. Always existing supporters, volunteers and company supporters.

I felt Harold had made such a significant contribution to our fundraising (not specifically NSPCC’s) that we should make an exception and recognise an outsider. I read the citation to 3,000 supporters at our AGM. I was proud. There was much applause.

There was a lovely certificate, with the Society’s seal. I had it framed. At IFC, I got a small group together, told them what had happened and presented the certificate.

Harold cried.

He was a man of great stature. The photograph of him that we always use makes him seem austere, quite grand and slightly distant.

But at heart he was a very humble, ordinary man. Who changed the world.

© Giles Pegram CBE

With thanks to Ken Burnett.

See also Mathew Sherrington’s blog

And Ken Burnett and Tony Aldrich on SOFII

Also on SOFII

The father of modern day fundraising: Harold Sumption

Harold Sumption the shy pioneer

NEW research on fundraiser-donor relationships: What part of 'broken' don't we understand?

A new piece of research from Birkbeck/LSE highlights major issues with the “broken” contract between donor and humanitarian NGOs such as Oxfam, Save the Children and others. It asks big questions of fundraisers and calls into question the whole basis of our relationship with the public and with our supporters. It builds on previous work that claims that the “quick buck” approach taken by many is in conflict with the long-term aims of the sector — solving global poverty, eliminating preventable death of children, etc.

In a nutshell it says that the “hit-and-run” approach by these charities (and by my implication, others too) is destroying their relationships with donors and questions whether this leaves us with a “crisis of caring.”

As the report succinctly puts it, either:

  • People don’t know enough to care, or
  • People don’t care enough to know.

So this has been a constant noise in the sector for many years — why does it remain an unsolved problem? Let’s open it up a bit and have a look at the arguments.

What do academics say?
Present the issue of global poverty with a non-Eurocentric historical context (try this?), demonstrate the broader picture, avoid dumbing down, don’t just make it about innocent kids, win people’s hearts and minds before you go for the contents of their wallets. This particular report asks us to “reflect on current practices,” and more specifically to:

  • Rethink our view of the public — from sales targets to complex and sophisticated individuals who want a conversation about the issues;
  • Reduce our reliance on emergencies as the staple “hook” for new donors; and
  • Rethink our role from collectors of funds and dispensers of good, to a more facilitative role (see obligatory triangle model below!)

Essentially, they say, humanitarian NGOs need to do a bit less of this:

And a bit more of this:

What do fundraisers say?
They firstly will probably say, “When was the last time you did any fundraising?” Then they’ll say, “We know what works!” You need to show the need; people don’t give without it. And this is backed by science. Psychologists say that the anticipation of guilt drives giving, along with the pay-off of the “warm glow.”

Advertising research shows that emotion is king and in particular that feelings of sadness drive action more than feelings of happiness.

There is a important nuance here. The LSE/Birkbeck report does not say, “Don’t show images of suffering.” It’s not quite that simple, I’m afraid. It does say that emotions need to be “manageable” for the receiver. To quote, “People expect and accept to feel sad and upset by humanitarian communications, individuals need to be able to make sense of the upset and to feel it has integrity of purpose. If perceived to be manipulative and exploitative, it leads to desensitisation and resentment.” This forms part of their “3M” model for what good looks like with regard to communicating on distant suffering.

So in addition to the years of practical experience of fundraisers the world over, there’s plenty of very sensible things said by very sensible people explaining WHY this stuff works.

But we DO have a problem. The Gates-funded Aid Attitude Tracker (AAT) puts in sharp relief what I imagine we all see through our own tracking and research. Take a look at its “18 Actions” chart, which shows the public engagement over time with, you guessed it, 18 different actions people can take in support of a cause. All 18 of them are heading south —  it sure ain’t pretty.

So we understand why fundraisers do what they do (because it “works”) and we also understand that in doing so we are damaging the long-term health of the sector and our chances of bringing about the ultimate change we want to see.

How has fundraising ended up here?
Famous and clever consultancy firm McKinsey is very fond of an analytical technique called the “5 whys,” essentially a deductive reasoning tool framed with a handy, self-explanatory moniker. When you do “5 whys” on this issue, you’ll find that the crisis here is not one of caring; it’s a crisis of objectives. It’s a boring answer, I know, but I think it’s the right one.

As long as fundraisers have objectives that look like this (real example taken from my own team by the way, although not this year; numbers removed to protect the guilty):

Then we’ll have adverts that look like this:

To deliver the change the sector wants and needs, we need to be measuring the success of our fundraisers differently. It’s not complicated. Difficult, yes. Scary, yes. But not complicated.

What do we need to do to make it better?
We need to be able to balance responsible financial management and planning with a new set of softer metrics, structured not around cost-of-acquisition and response rates, but around engagement — both quantity and quality. Easy to say, hard to do. But we have to do it.

At Oxfam we’re moving in the right direction, albeit in small steps. We used to measure “net positive months,” i.e., the net movement of our regular giving base (which can go up or down, unfortunately!) each month. We still do measure that (it’s kind of important), but we’ve banished it off the front page of our KPIs and replaced it with a net monthly measure of engagement to focus management discussion on this. We are actively talking about what the right measures are, and 2017 will see our fundraisers’ performance measured and evaluated using much broader, softer measures (like supporter experience) than we’ve ever seen before. We’re working hard to bring the public closer to our cause with initiatives like showing real-time data on where donations are spent, our new app that allows donors new access to bite-size content and a way to control their giving, as well as trialling things like VR in our street fundraising.

Whilst brilliant and the backbone of many charities’ unrestricted income, the regular giving model has been an enemy not a friend here. The regular gift has set up a dynamic of hard-sell followed by inertia equalling a profitable model. How different would the world be if we had to ask and thank for every monthly donation – that’s the philosophy of Oxfam’s new app, designed to give the warm glow of giving every month for a donor’s lifetime, not just the day they signed up.

So we’re getting there. Undoubtedly we won’t be perfect, and I’m expecting lots of people throwing back a whole heap of examples to demonstrate that — great! My challenge to you is that if you’re really serious about the cause you work for, if you’re really serious, then you need to think about this stuff. Is your organisation brave enough to allow its fundraising team to relax a little, to experiment more? Can you try things that might not give an immediate return, but move the big goal a little closer?

A higher ambition for fundraising
We work for wonderful causes, with inspiring and important aims — long-term aims like ending poverty, eliminating child mortality, protecting animals from cruelty and so on. Why do we have such lowly ambitions for our fundraising?

Fundraising alone is not going to save the world. There — I said it. If I did an amazing job and doubled Oxfam’s income, it would still be a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem. I imagine that goes for most big charities with big goals.

Nelson Mandela said the ending poverty is not an act of charity, it is an act of justice. It points to the fact that poverty, like so many of the world’s ills, is a status created and perpetuated by political decisions. To help to change that, we need a movement of active, engaged people representing a forcible political will. And we‘re not going to get there by hit-and-run fundraising tactics.

Yes, first of all we need to engage and find those who care about the issue. If we want to engage large numbers and turn around this crisis of caring, we have to be open to people engaging on their own terms and values. That means showing need, it means talking about humanitarian emergencies — but not as the only discourse and not at any cost. The-long term health and future of the sector is simply more important.

In big organisations, objectives drive everything we do. Change them and we change the world. Let’s do it!



Resource mobilisation: the two most thrilling words I know

In an age of snappy slogans, it can be good to remind ourselves that the thrill of words should come from their meaning and not from their sound-bite superficiality.

This was brought home to me last month when I was in Delhi, India, as a volunteer organiser and speaker at The Resource Alliance’s International Workshop on Resource Mobilisation. What a privilege! And what a fabulous group of delegates! People who wore their desire for social justice on the sleeve; people who soaked up every morsel of insight one shared; people who were mobilising every bit of resource they could, and who still had the energy for Punjabi techno dance moves of an evening.

I have to confess — and I do this with apologies to my many Resource Alliance friends — that I used to think the IWRM was a terribly clunky name. But that was before I saw what resource mobilisation really means.

One person mobilising resources is Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj.  I’d met Anshu at IFC 2016, where he delivered a provocative closing plenary challenging the way fundraisers often portray ‘beneficiaries’ (see, I even have to put that word in quotes now…). The sign at the entrance to his office highlights the Goonj philosophy.

The resources Goonj mobilises are discarded clothing and people. A thriving workshop upcycles old materials into clothing, backpacks, and all kinds of stuff that can be sold for profit or donated to those who need it. One workshop is dedicated to making sanitary protection for women who otherwise may have no more than a single piece of cloth, sometime shared in a family. This tackling of taboo, often unspoken, issues was also the focus of the IWRM’s closing plenary.

Through his organisation, Safai Karmachari Andolan, Bezwada Wilson works on behalf of what is sometimes still referred to as the untouchable caste. For many of this caste, the only work they can find is cleaning up human faeces. His presentation switched between Hindi and English, but I didn’t have to understand every word to know what he was saying. He challenged the audience hugely. How could we be trying to make the world a better place in so many ways, when we turn a blind eye and tolerate an entire group of people condemned to cleaning shit for their livelihood? The audience wept. And I was reminded that some of the most precious resources we can ever mobilise are our compassion, our openness to being challenged, and our strength to right what is wrong.


Should charities invest in fundraising rather than in stocks, shares and bonds? Or is this really the wrong question?

A better thought-through approach to investment could be hugely beneficial for both donors and charities. Arguably it’s their blinkered, inconsistent and confused approach to fundraising investment that has got charities and fundraising into their current pickle.

That one has to speculate to accumulate is, of course, simple economics. Charities need to raise ever more to meet the growing demands from our society for their increasingly diverse and complex services.  Society needs more good works, and charities must step up to raise the needful.

Some argue though that fundraising income has reached saturation point, that fundraising costs — like donor complaints — are bound to keep rising but overall giving is doomed to stay static. There are germs of truth in this, though individual charities show consistent growth over the years, particularly those that invest wisely and do fundraising right.

Many charities can show returns from investment in fundraising way, way more lucrative than they’d ever get by investing similar sums in “the markets.” Individual charities such as Guide Dogs (see opposite) can show that they generate many times more, over time, by investing in fundraising rather than the usual alternatives. But this isn’t just about investing in fundraising per se rather than stocks, shares and similar. Charities will get a better long-term return if they think of this as investing instead in their donors’ experience. It’s time our sector started to quantify this a bit better than it does, as part of its accountability to donors and, incidentally, to help make the case for adequate and sustained future investment.

For fundraising to succeed, charities need to invest in people and in giving them time to do their work. I would contend — again, mere opinion based on 40 years of  inside observation — that far more charity initiatives fail because of under-investment rather than spending too much. Fundraising in the UK has gone off the rails largely because of inappropriate, and under, investment and because expenditure on fundraising is too often seen as an unwelcome cost rather than a necessary and — if carefully managed — prudent, productive long-term investment. Lots of other factors have got in the way too. Having the wrong people in place. Poor leadership from boards and SMTs. Lack of planning. Short-term thinking and false economies (which bedevil our sector). To name but a few.

All of these could be due to a misguided view of the term “investment,” in its broadest sense.

Fundraisers can justify and need to invest much more in recruiting the right people plus training them to think, inspire and communicate in the right way, using properly the full range of stories and channels available to them. In this way, charities will please more donors and raise more money with minimal distress.

What follows is a list of “positions” on investment that many, if not most, fundraisers might agree with

  • Some people are disposed to be donors and some aren’t. Given fundraisers’ limited promotional resources it makes sense to concentrate the little we have on those disposed to give, to ensure that fundraising to them is done professionally in such a way that they enjoy the experience so they not only wish to continue giving at optimum, but tell their friends too. If we can find a way to change the disposition of the rest that would be good, but it isn’t our priority.
  • Expenditure on donor-centred fundraising should be seen as it is, an investment, not a cost. As outlay and income can both be measured, there should be clear understanding among donors and fundraisers of whether or not such investment is generally a good thing for a charity.
  • Charities are obliged to keep reserves. The case for prudently investing a sensible part of these reserves in fundraising (versus other options, e.g. stocks, bonds, etc.) should be clearly made.
  • Fundraising charities also must invest in people — recruiting the very best for the task and training them to be better. And must invest in safe and productive work environments, in the right equipment to do the job properly, in the right communications to engage key audiences, and in technology too. We owe beneficiaries nothing less (lack of investment in data is seriously holding our sector back — see Data-driven nonprofits by Steve MacLaughlin).
  • Fundraising (donor relationship development) done well can be an impressively cost-effective activity; therefore the returns charities get from a balanced fundraising portfolio should be carefully recorded, understood and made available to donors.
  • Charities and their fundraisers have to be honest and open about the commercial realities they face and have a duty to explain their situation positively. The truth, told well. Anyone unable to accept those realities will not stay long as a donor. Spending little or nothing on fundraising is not sustainable but is counter-productive and, ultimately, a rather foolish pipe dream. Fundraisers should not hold back from saying so.
  • To quote major donor expert Angela Cluff, fundraising approaches/costs are a hygiene factor, not a motivator.  For donors to give to a particular charity they simply need to be OK with that charity’s approach to fundraising — assuming they are aware of it or care about it at all. A good fundraiser will ensure that they are and will.
  • Because giving is voluntary and there’s no tangible product or direct service, asking well is the right aspiration. The donor experience is right; it’s the holy grail. It may be possible to prove this, but believing it will suffice. Logic says that if people find giving satisfying and pleasurable they will do more of it; if they find it unsatisfactory and unpleasant they will soon stop.
  • Appropriate spending on an effective administration is not wasteful, nor is it something to be tucked out of sight or apologised for. Indeed, it’s imprudent not to invest sufficiently in an efficient administration as if donors’ gifts are not properly administered, how can they be confident that any of their gift will get to where they want it to?
  • Investing appropriately in innovation is essential. As UK consultant Allan Freeman has pointed out, under or unwise investment in fundraising may be the source of many of our ills. Equally important is investing in people, knowledge and understanding.
  • Donors have every right to be concerned about the effectiveness/efficiency of fundraising. They are entitled to proper explanation and should not support a cause whose explanations don’t satisfy them.
  • Rather like Margaret Thatcher’s view of the electorate, we don’t expect or even need everyone to vote for or support our cause, just enough to help us get “in” — effectively, to achieve our mission.
  • A donation to charity is not like the purchase of a product. Fundraising is not like commercial trading. The harder you push to persuade — to sell the idea of a gift to a good cause — the less likely you are to succeed. Anyone who believes fundraising is just a form of selling and that giving is just another kind of product is in the wrong career area.
  • Attitudes to and strategies for investment are the concern of each organisation, but there’s a perception in our sector that cheapest is best and that investment in doing things right is not a priority. This is tragically wrong. Our sector is riddled with false economies, and we need unity of purpose and better understanding to change that.

When they give to our good causes donors get no goods, service or direct benefit other than the famous “warm glow” we talk of. Given that, and as there are so many alternative calls upon their limited disposable funds and we need their help so, so much, it strikes me as remarkable — criminal even — that charities don’t invest more carefully and more wisely to make sure that the warm glow is always a lasting sensation. Because donors will only keep on giving if it is.

That’s why charities shouldn’t invest in either fundraising or stocks and shares, at least not until they’ve fully, carefully and comprehensively invested in providing a brilliant experience for their donors.

I hope readers will sympathise that I’ve had long experience of trying to take this particular horse to water, very often thinking the horse has got there only to see it struggle to take even a sip, far less a full drink. The question we should ask is, how should fundraisers invest prudently in the donor experience so they can generate the income that’s needed to secure their cause’s future, long-term? Then we should equip them properly, so they can do it.

© Ken Burnett 2017

Related earlier blogs:

The ‘less cost is best’ fallacy. A fundraising Utopia.

How to make relationship fundraising work.

NB This opinion article is Ken Burnett’s unsolicited response to issues raised in the process of compiling project 20 for the Commission on the Donor Experience, on investment. These opinions are his own, not necessarily the Commission’s. For more information on the Commission visit www.donor-experience.com.





Fundraisers, Meet the Millennials: The Top 3 Mistakes You’re Making

I got an Outlook invite to a “Millennial Pilot Project Brainstorming Session” once. For all the time spent stereotyping this generation, you’d think they wouldn’t have tried to cram so many buzzwords into one subject line; millennials are, after all, the post-Don-Drapers, the ones who see through the pandering, right?

“Millennial? Ooh, that’s me!”
“Pilot? First of its kind? Hella cool.”
“Project? I love projects — short-term commitment.”
“Brainstorming! I am a brain-hurricane.”
“Sessions are so much better than meetings.”

You get where I’m going, fundraisers? Our industry plays heavily in the digital space. We need young minds and social media savvy to be successful. But that doesn’t mean we’re hiring extraterrestrials to do it.

Now, in fairness, the project itself turned out to be fairly exciting, but it birthed this strange dichotomy in the organization where every time something having to do with social media, Internet, cell phones or the word “innovation” came up, those of us who likely still got carded at bars were looked at to speak on behalf of our generation.

It feels good to be solicited for your opinion, but by speaking and self-identifying as “one of those millennials,” you implicitly accept the limitations of your generation as well as the benefits. Fundraising has to cut past assumptions to be successful at the internal level before it can do the same in the community.

1. You’re othering

In marketing and fundraising, donor stereotypes and demographics are kind of your thing. You rely on certain behaviors that are, to a large extent, fairly dependable to do your job better.

In the workplace, though, generational stereotypes can lead to the “halo effect,” where casting someone as a millennial automatically imbues them with social passion and self-absorption.

Once you systematically begin to stratify people on your team by generational characteristics, you lose sight of some of their other unique qualities, and you make them feel like their purpose is to act their age — and that’s something every young professional is trying to overcome.

There’s no way around it: Without a conscientious organizational culture to support new ideas, growth, development and failing forward, emphasizing youth will almost inevitably be emphasizing naiveté and inexperience. Nonprofits and fundraising organizations often have experimentation in their DNA to figure out how to be leaner and more impactful. Make sure the culture lets employees know they have a soft place to fall.

For example, a specific Gen-Yer’s inquisitive nature could lead to lots of questioning, which can at times feel like you’re being challenged. An “othering” workplace would interpret that as the “know-it-all mentality” of “this generation.”

2. You’re simplifying

Because millennial engagement is such a hot topic, and because companies are beginning to realize what a new generation means for stakeholders, future donors and today’s employees, they’re reacting quickly.

I’ve encountered a sense of desperation in some conversations. There are panic-stricken faces from seasoned professionals: “How do we engage the millennials?”

With hopeful eyes, they look at the millennials, who return a face that can only be described with an emoji.

Objectively, millennials are the most connected generation yet, consuming information nearly constantly. They know what’s going on in the world, and they have opinions about it. With that, however, comes a more nuanced understanding that the more they know, the less likely they are to generalize.

Millennials don’t want economic or ideological imperialism. They know that feminism isn’t a subversive term invented by Betty Friedan. They know that Obama and Reagan have things in common. They are aware of differences, they understand them, and they tolerate and appreciate them.

With that kind of mentality, the only thing you can do with millennials is be honest. Skip the inflated language and buzzword soup — serve them up a main course of medium-rare filet, a prime cut easy to digest (unless, of course, they’re vegan). This is scary for fundraisers, because it’s hard to talk about the nitty-gritty issues without conveying a sense of hopelessness. But spending time finessing the message and maintaining transparency will help you grow this stakeholder group and raise more money long-term.

3. You’re aging down

It’s hard, and I mean hard, to be young and idealistic starting out your career. You have a million and one dreams, and the Internet tells you that for a small fee, you can probably even make them come true.

You want to go in and change an organization. The paycheck isn’t enough to keep you feeling like you’re doing a good job. You can excel, you can be precocious, you can introduce technology — but then they realize your super-secret millennial superpowers and, regardless of your skills, your identifier is your age.

Suddenly a quality that isn’t even legally allowed to be a factor in hiring (as long as you’re over 18) is your blessing and your curse.

Managers, hear me on this: Millennials are painfully aware of what people have been told to think if they were born c. 1985. The last thing they want is to feel like a number, an age, or a range of years.

The best advice: Treat young employees like professionals. Help them grow and pursue their careers. Fundraise with open leadership, hear them out on new ideas, and don’t be threatened by apparent disagreement — friction is what sparks creative ignition. This will keep them green, and you need that kind of energy in the high-input, high-stakes world of fundraising.

5 Big Fundraising Trends — Are You Prepared?

The pace of change in our sector has never been greater. Social and technological trends bring new opportunities and threats. What are these trends and how can we, as non-profit and fundraising organisations, adapt to the continuously and ever more quickly changing reality?

New technological opportunities are arriving at an increasing pace. This technology impacts the ways in which we communicate with our audiences, and more importantly, it changes the ways our supporters want to communicate with us, how they want to support us and what specific activities they want to support.

Of course, the same goes for a lot of brands and organisations. After all, the average lifetime of business models is decreasing — from 45 years in 1950 to 15 years in 2025. Many of the established big brands have disappeared, old roles (in the retail and banking industries, for example) are diminishing, new roles are being created. What will the impact be on the non-profit sector?

With absolute certainty, technological developments impact the way we fundraise. They change the day-to-day work of our fundraisers. They change the competencies and knowledge we need to do our jobs. These changes not only impact the fundraising departments; they turn around organisations as a whole and influence how we make decisions and how we cooperate within our organisations, defining how and with whom we cooperate — with companies, other organisations, and perhaps most importantly with our supporters.

Besides this, we face new competition. We see a growing number of private charitable initiatives. Also, social entrepreneurs are moving into the arena of “doing good.” This new competition and market demands that non-profits reinvent their roles, that they redefine and clearly communicate their missions. And most importantly, that they clearly communicate the valuable and unique way they contribute to society.

In the last weeks of 2016, numerous trends lists and forecasts have been published. (See Matthew Sherrington’s crystal-ball predictions, for example.) Trends can be categorised in different ways, of course. In my opinion, the categories below summarize those with the biggest impact on the non-profit sector:

Collaboration/sharing economy. Non-profits are joining forces with other non-profits as well as for-profits, cooperating to reach common goals and sharing resources to decrease costs. At the same time, our supporters are becoming accustomed to sharing both goods and knowledge. They are looking for new ways to contribute to a non-profit’s mission beyond merely donating money. Are we prepared to cooperate, to innovate for and with a new kind of supporter?

From supporting brands to supporting people. Person-to-person fundraising is growing exponentially: People prefer to give to people instead of to big, impersonal brands. Storytelling is becoming crucial in fundraising. Are we prepared to foster the supporters fundraising for us? To communicate with our supporters in a more personal way? To collaborate with private charity initiatives, contributing our unique capabilities, like our experience, knowledge and network?

Digital transformation. The digital transformation creates both challenges and opportunities for every organisation, like predictive marketing, enhanced customer service requirements and omnichannel coherence. For non-profits, it entails additional challenges. What specific fundraising asks can you formulate to be successful online? Will you be supporting crowdfunding? How will you keep your supporters as involved as needed with your activities and beneficiaries? Will you use blogs, videos, chat possibilities?

From raising funds to building relationships. Donor-centric fundraising, or relationship fundraising, is already top of mind for most of us. We are creating customer journeys for our donors. The challenge will be to incorporate the consequences of the other trends into these journeys. What other ways will we offer to get to know us before we ask for a donation? How will predictive marketing impact the journey?

Technological opportunities. The technological opportunities to enhance our fundraising are numerous. Experience marketing with virtual and augmented reality and mobile payments (tap to give) are already impacting the way we fundraise. Blockchain, Internet of Things and Big Data (marketing automation) will impact our fundraising in ways we are only beginning to grasp. See for example this Blockchain fundraising start-up. Are you sufficiently aware of the possible consequences and opportunities?

Are you prepared for these trends? Is your fundraising department? Is your organisation? Each and every one demands a closer cooperation between the different departments of a non-profit than we have ever seen before.

Questions that, in my opinion, are becoming more and more pressing, are:

  • How will we fundraise in two to five years?
  • How will we cooperate, within and outside of our organisation?

Non-profits will have to determine their way forward, and when and how they want to take full advantage of the changes ahead. It is up to you to be aware of the opportunities and make them work for your organisation.

On a more strategic note, we need our organisations to be able to adapt to the continuously growing pace of change. This requires courage, leadership and an open mind. Are you prepared?

Fundraisers in southern Africa facing tougher times

A new year and, for most of us new, often bigger fundraising targets to achieve. Whilst mostly rewarding, the job of finding new donors and keeping current ones loyal is always challenging and made that much harder when the outlook on economic growth is predicted to be slow, and political uncertainty abounds.

In developing countries like South Africa, where social impact (or non-profit) organisations make a substantial contribution to advancing the well-being of communities, protecting their rights and filling service delivery gaps, the pressure on local organisations to survive these challenging economic and political times is even harder.

With the majority of organisations being poorly capacitated in their fundraising, resulting in the responsibility to “keep the ship afloat” most often falling to the director and programme staff, it’s understandable why most continue to struggle to build successful local fundraising programmes and reduce their dependency on grant funding from government, corporates and foundations (for more details see the Resource Alliance’s Southern Africa Scoping Report).

Fundraising consultant and blogger Jill Ritchie shares the concern that more local charitable and developmental organisations will need to focus on broadening their income bases or they will struggle to survive what is clearly going to be a tough year. She explains why:

“Corporate giving in South Africa in 2015/16 was R8.6 billion. This is a small increase of 6% on the year before but, in real terms when adjusted for inflation, there is no increase. After year-on-year increases for over two decades, CSI giving in SA is levelling off. Companies are also spending their money differently. Some are more strategic (the days of cheque book charity are gone forever) in their giving, often selecting fewer organisations to support, giving larger amounts and becoming more integrally involved in their chosen few. Many have become non-negotiable about beneficiary organisations being able to clearly demonstrate impact. Also, companies are giving away less cash these days with many offering staff secondments, volunteer time, and free or discounted services or products to organisations. There is also a greater and greater blurring of the lines between CSI and marketing. There is more, “What’s in it for us via branding and other marketing opportunities?” than ever before. Staff members are influencing companies too. More local giving is happening (as in areas where staff members’ families live, even if funds are spent via local councils to improve community facilities).

Today there are a mere handful of foreign missions still giving directly to non-profits in South Africa. This was a lucrative source of funding prior to 1994, but post the first democratic elections much foreign funding was changed to bilateral aid – going directly to government. The few that do give remain a good source of support, but their monitoring and evaluation requirements have become onerous — and rightly so.

Trusts and foundations that exist for the purpose of supporting good causes remain constant but elusive, and there is no definitive list of such funding. A few make calls via the media and social media, but most remain largely hidden.

Many local organisations rely on lottery funding; however, this also has its challenges. The South African National Lottery Commission recently announced an open call for funding. But its grant-making criteria have been narrowed and caps have been put on amounts given to any one organisation. Sadly, the Lottery’s Arts, Culture and National Heritage budget is no longer supporting state-funded museums, which means that they too will be looking for CSI money and competing with other non-profits in the country.”

So, what about individual giving as a way to diversify income for local organisations? Despite the inequalities, South Africans do give (see CAF Southern Africa recent report on Individual Giving in the Gauteng Province). And just like in the developed north, philanthropy is not the exclusive activity of the wealthy – those with less give more proportionally in South Africa. This is evidenced by those groups who’ve consistently invested in their individual giving programmes – they’ve weathered the economic downturns far better than those who haven’t. Whilst the South African post office may not be as good as Royal Mail, it functions well enough to enable dozens of local groups to raise millions each year through direct mail and nurture relationships with donors to develop lifetime giving.

Online giving is also growing and given the penetration of smart phones, the growth of mobile giving is also likely to be on an upward rise, so long as more ordinary people become confident about transacting through their phones.

However, says my colleague Wendy McLeod of Downes Murray International, whilst there’s been an upturn in the number of local organisations who’ve invested in their databases and are using a good CRM programme to manage it, too few aren’t using data to strategically inform when and how they are communicating with their donors.  In these tough times, she says, it’s those who really know their donors and treat them as personal friends, who will keep growing.    She adds that another potential growth area is in major gift prospecting, although this requires lots of sleuthing, as unlike in the some other countries, personal tax returns are not made public in South Africa.

And what of F2F? Melanie Jackson from Words that Count, says that if we are to be guided by the successes in other developing countries like Brazil, South Africa has a bright future in F2F. However, as it’s a capped market, she thinks early adopters have the best chance of success despite the limitations, such as being confined to shopping malls, businesses and special events, along with infrastructure set-up costs.

So a long, tough year ahead for many and it will be interesting to see who survives it best – I suspect it is likely to be those that stick to good fundraising principles; use the opportunity to try out new, creative ways of attracting support; and invest in and invigorate those responsible for their fundraising.  Easier said than done but not impossible.


In response to the hunger for new ideas and inspiration, for the first time ever the Resource Alliance is bringing the IFC to South Africa for three, one-day pop-up events in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, in February and March this year. Go to http://www.resource-alliance.org/south-africa for more information and to register. There are early-bird discounts, too. Use one of these codes when registering: EARLYJOBURG, EARLYCAPETOWN or EARLYDURBAN.

Donor loyalty takes time and effort, but it's essential

A good grasp of the basics of relationship building is the place to start.

Donor loyalty should be valued by non-profit organizations. There is always room for getting new donors, but what about the ones who have been donating all along or have donated in the past? You can’t just let them slip by, can you? It is reported that 60 percent of donors disappear after their first contribution, never to return for another.

Those with loyal behaviours usually believe in the ideology the organization stands for, and they have trust built. It is the occasional donors that you need to bring on board and have them returning. In the long-term, 10 percent of these donors can generate 200 percent return in the organization’s operational life.

How to ensure the donor retention? Read on …

Craft a killer message

The impact of crafting a compelling message can’t be argued. So to increase donor loyalty and to attract new donors, work on your message. It usually comes down to your organization’s vision and mission statements.

Exercise care as to what message you intend to portray. It speaks a lot about your objective and/or goals in the near future. Donors, if not convinced, will consider your statements as just another piece of text with no meaning attached to it. Poetically put, breathe some soul into your message.

Donors must be able to tell by reading your message how their money is going to be channelized in making the proposed difference. Your cause should be able to resonate with that of the donor. And if it is compelling enough, congratulations … you have found in him a donor who’s coming back!


We have talked about trust, but let’s see it from another angle. In other words, how do you establish trust with your donor? Start by being transparent. Share authentic stats, information and data if a donor expresses interest in reviewing documental evidence or simply wishes to check your organization’s credibility.

You can also seek to have your organization vetted by a neutral but reputable third party. Such endorsements help a great deal. Or you can get a renowned figure on board from your niche/industry to say a few words on how satisfactory the proceedings are at your organization – another form of endorsement. Lastly, you can follow up or send a personalized thank-you note saying how their money has helped shape the future.

Don’t complicate loyalty

Loyalty should not come at a cost. For instance, the procedure to donate should be seamless, and all payment methods should be available. You cannot place a restriction, for example, that you only deal in payments made via check. This puts those seeking to donate cash or via credit card/online at a disadvantage.

Also, as previously mentioned, follow-up and thank them for their contribution and implore them to donate again. Remind them through email of the cause and cases that their donation can help change for better. If you maintain a website, ensure its optimal functionality.

Focus on relationship building

Think long-term instead of a one-time gain in the form of a donation. That can only be achieved via a good and healthy relationship with your donors. To etch your name on their hearts, offer promotions, newsletters and videos to equip them more about your cause and all the latest happenings.

Interact and engage as much as you can. This will serve as a brand recall. And brand recall is needed not just in the corporate sector but equally in the non-profit businesses. Host events and share real-time activity in the form of charts and/or graphs where they can see how their contributions are bridging the gap.

Since this is all meant for donor retention, enrich their experience as much as you can. The relationship-building exercise will translate into ROI, but you will have to be patient and give it time.

101fundraising scholarship to IFC 2017

We wanted to take a moment to thank those of you who so generously have donated funds to 101fundraising over the years. We’ve been entrusted with that cash and have come up with a cool way to use it!

You know that The Resource Alliance is the curator of the IFC, which takes place each October in the Netherlands. We know you know … because we see many of you there! What we decided to do is use the donated funds to award  the first ever “101scholarship” to IFC 2017.

The Resource Alliance exists to give fundraisers and others in the social impact sector the tools they need to create lasting, positive change in the world. Each year, we choose a handful of fundraisers who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend and award them full scholarships to the IFC. Each award covers registration, accommodation, food and travel.

Scholars are assigned mentors prior to the IFC to help them create their own personalised programme, and support them during the conference and for 12 months afterwards, including monthly phone calls to discuss issues and offer encouragement. In return for their allotments, scholars are asked to hold learning forums back home after the IFC to continue the sharing of new ideas that took root during the conference.

When we took over 101fundraising, there was some donated money in the coffers. It’s not enough yet to fund a scholarship so, yes, you’ll be hearing from us in the near future. (Come on, we’re all fundraisers here, right? You must have known where we were going with this.) We’ll also let you know when the nomination process is open.

The scholarship programme helps not only the individual recipients at the time of the conference, but the impact echoes out to their peers and the communities they’ll serve throughout their careers.

We hope you’ll be excited to help us send some promising and talented fundraisers to the IFC, providing them with a full roster of training, networking and stimulating debate that will impact their work for decades to come. Stay tuned!





A fundraising fairy tale …

Two women walk down a busy street in London, deep in conversation. Amongst the swathes of people, they are approached by an engaging young man eager to tell them about the charity he represents. They smile, appreciate what he is trying to do, but won’t be setting up a direct debit today. He beams back at them, holds an enthusiastic but brief conversation, and they go on their way.

Minutes later, a #firstfiver lands in the hands of one of the women. She has been waiting for this for weeks. And she knows exactly what she’ll do with it. High on the experience of talking to the fundraiser, she donates it to his charity. Immediately. Online. In the moment.

It feels good. She has no real interest in the cause, but it doesn’t matter. A random interaction with no commitment. If this was a movie script, it would be the perfect one-night stand.


The Christmas DM pack falls on her doormat. She opens it, not expecting much — the acknowledgement of her small donation had not been brilliant. But there it was. A pack containing the perfect mix of information, impact, and emotion. A pack containing a fabulous poster to give to her nephew. A pack that moves her to want to get involved.

Hang on. Maybe she does have something in common with this charity after all. Was it really a one-night stand or did it have legs? Only one way to find out. But forms, envelopes, stamps? No, she will donate online again. She would do it just as soon as …


… a few weeks have passed. The pack and the poster are all but forgotten.

She’s on the train when the email arrives: a perfectly formed reminder that brings the pack to life on her mobile. She smiles. She clicks the donate button. No! Surely not! No service! They emerge from the tunnel and her phone pings with something urgent … the moment is lost.

Later that evening, in the background of conversation she catches a glimpse of an advert. The pack! On TV! She goes to call and stops. It will cost the charity to take the call. She will do it online like she did before. She picks up her laptop but … the phone rings. It’s her mother …


Several weeks go by and finally — another email. She doesn’t take much notice of what it says. She just clicks the button. Finally, she makes the donation. The donation she has been meaning to make for weeks.


Question: Which team gets the prize for soliciting that crucial second donation?
Answer: Who cares? It’s that kind of silo thinking that’s holding us back.

OK, so it’s likely to be the team that created the second reminder email that must have been so good it generated a response. Right?

Well, the person in the story is me, so I can tell you that the second reminder email was by far the weakest piece of content; it just landed at the right place at the right time. You could argue it did its job.

But this experience has got me really thinking about how our donors really experience integration and how the way we measure activity — in particular non-responsive touch points — can really damage our efforts to deliver an effective donor experience.

The real hero in this story is the F2F fundraiser. He is the only reason that this #firstfiver went to the charity in the first place. But will that fundraiser/agency get any credit? No.

Then there is the DM team, but because I have no cheque book and an aversion to stamps, will they get any credit? No.

In fact, I counted at least seven teams (as well as the #firstfiver campaign — well played, Mr. Thompson!) that contributed to getting that second donation. But it’s likely only one team will get any credit. This is where the ROI will be measured.

And if this is the only metric used to analyse my behavior, how will my future “journey” play out? I am, after all, a repeat online donor. Why not just send emails in the future?

We are so focused on internal stuff, and measuring the stuff that justifies our existence as fundraisers, that the really important stuff, the stuff that really matters, can often get forgotten.

So my next question… what if this charity now asked me why I donated and understood the whole experience and not just the bit that I eventually responded to?

I would be delighted to tell them the whole story! I’d love them to know why I made that “random” donation, what “got” me about the DM pack and how the things that I didn’t respond to contributed to securing my second donation. No ROI report or database analytics will tell them any of this.

My story might be completely different from the story of someone else who responded to that very same email, but it might help them to communicate with me in the right way and keep me motivated to give.

But before we get knee deep in ifs and buts, let’s not forget that this is a happy story. Thanks to #firstfiver, a F2F fundraiser and a great integrated campaign, a charity has a new donor. With an acquisition cost of practically £0. In current times, that sounds like a fairy tale in itself!

Of course, the moral of the story is simple enough to see but far harder to achieve. But let’s make a resolution for 2017 to be the year we start making steps in the right direction.

Please allow us to introduce ourselves

(Don’t worry, we’ll be back to real blogs next week.)

Funny how things sometimes come full circle. As we’re working on transitioning the 101fundraising site to reflect The Resource Alliance’s new role as its caretakers, I was reminded that in 2013, the then 2-year-old 101 was given the Editor’s Choice award for Best Fundraising Blog by US-based FundRaising Success magazine (now Nonprofit Pro).

I was the editor who made that choice. Clearly, I was enamored of this crowdblog from early on. Here’s what we had to say at the time: “This internationally crowdsourced blog came out strong and just keeps getting better. The global insights from some of the world’s most innovative and thoughtful fundraisers are always a pleasure to read. With contributors weighing in from all over the world and representing every type of mission, organization and job title, you just never know what you’re going to get on this blog — other than well-written, informative and entertaining insights on fundraising, that is!”

It was a great call then, and 101 has continually upped the bar.

We were happily surprised as talks about this transition began — and incredibly honored. For Reinier and Jeroen and the rest of the 101 team to trust us with their legacy and to take 101 into the future was exciting and humbling. The transition was announced at IFC 2016 in October, but we all had been buzzing about it for months.

Who we are
The Resource Alliance has been around for nearly 40 years. It began as a networking and support group for attendees to a conference that would eventually become the IFC. Over the years, it has grown into a multifaceted resource for the nonprofit sector around the world. We curate content and events designed to inspire and educate fundraisers and the countless others who work tirelessly to make the world a better place.

The Resource Alliance was built on the concept that fundraisers can reach and teach each other, and benefit from shared knowledge. Sound familiar?

Our manifesto speaks of mobilising to make change happen, of minds meeting, ideas unleashing, thoughts converging, and power multiplying – all of which lies at the heart of what this crowdblog is about.

Looking ahead
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, 101fundraising will continue to be community driven. We’ve been in touch with many of the regular contributors, and they’re on board to continue sharing their knowledge, insights and passion with the 101 community. Plus we’ll be looking to add some new voices. If you’d like to blog for us, please let us know. You can email me directly at meg@resource-alliance.org.

While I’m the main point person for 101, The Resource Alliance has a solid team of dedicated folks behind everything we do. You can meet them here, and also noodle around on the The Resource Alliance website.

Finally, one last shout-out to Reinier, Jeroen, Sarah, Marjolein, Victor, Elsbeth and Rebecca: You rock. You’ve built something wonderful here. Thank you for this honor and for your trust in us. You’ve left us some huge shoes to fill, and we promise to do you proud.

The Top 50 blog posts of 2016!


Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to a year full of hope and promise, dreams fulfilled, goals met and new ones set.

As you know, the original 101fundraising team has passed the considerably weighty baton to us here at The Resource Alliance. Many of you know us and have been part of our International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands for years. But I’m sure others are wondering what The Resource Alliance is and who we think we are taking over 101fundraising.

We’re looking forward to getting to know you – and having you get to know us – as 2017 unfolds. But more about that in Thursday’s post.

Today, we’re all clawing our way back into work mode, and this is the annual Top 50 list. We took some liberties with the title of the list (Geesh, they’re making changes already? How rude!) because, well, “best of” seems so … subjective. A post that we personally loved might have left you cold, and vice-versa.

“Top 50” reflects the fact that these choices are based on more objective analytics. If a post that isn’t listed here really floated your boat in 2016, let us know! Tell us why you loved it, and we’ll give it a shout-out in a future post.

So below, check out the Top 50 101fundraising blog posts from 2016. Thanks to all the fine bloggers who provided such insightful and fascinating content for the 101fundraising readership last year. (Please show them some love, and spread it around by sharing the Top 50 list with your networks.)

If you’re interested in writing for 101fundraising in 2017 or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, etc., please let us know! In the original spirit of 101fundraising, this will remain your forum, your community. We’re so looking forward to hearing from you – and serving you – in 2017 and beyond. Drop me a note at meg@resource-alliance.org.

Top 50 101fundraising blog posts of 2016

1. Thank you, Wally! — Reinier Spruit

2. We bid you farewell. Mic drop. — Reinier Spruit & Jeroen Beelen

3. Online charity benchmark 2016 – compare your website –Victor van der Veen

4. Backs to the wall or back to the future? — Toby Bourke

5. Major gift end of the year to-do list — Karen Osborne

6. Open source fundraising — Rebecca Davies

7. Simply the best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q4 2016) — 101fundraising

8. Men in fundraising: We have a problem. And it’s you. — Matthew Sherrington

9. Changing fundraising. For good. — Ken Burnett

10. Make fundraising great again! — Charlie Hulme

11. Are we managing a fundraising decline? Only if we let ourselves. — Giles Pegram

12. I can’t thank you enough — Reinier Spruit

13. Fundraising for humans — Simon Scriver

14. I spy 5 fundraising trends in 2016 — Tom Ahern

15. A donor relationship is not a trick — Reinier Spruit

16. The Resource Alliance takes over 101fundraising! — 101fundraising

17. Decisions leadership must make for fundraising to grow — Alan Clayton

18. The people who made relationship fundraising work — Derek Humphries

19. Pratfall – how mistakes make you more attractive — Lucy Gower

20. The trouble with vanilla… — Lucy Gower

21. Leadership in fundraising innovation — Ellen Janssens

22. Simply the best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q1 2016) — 101fundraising

23. A brief history of fundraising — Giles Pegram

24. Benchmarking and goal setting – Is second best, best? — Karen Osborne

25. Open source fundraising — Rebecca Davies

26. Seeing donors as partners: Will you shift your culture? — Jackie Fowler

27. Getting back to basics — Rachel Hunnybun

28. What are the two most dangerous assumptions in fundraising? — Charlie Hulme

29. What do you need the money for? — Jaz Nannar

30. Simply the best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q3 2016) — 101fundraising

31. Fundraising in the Middle East: How, why and what — Chris Carnie

32. How answering ‘why’ and ‘what’ could change your fundraising — Charlie Hulme

33. Here be dragons — Richard Turner

34. Feeling good about feelings, facts and fundraising — Matthew Sherrington

35. What is fundraising success? — Richard Turner

36. Why are we fundraising and how can we do it better? — Charlie Hulme

37. How to DIY a digital strategy that actually works — Beate Sørum

38. When fundraising hurts: Vicarious trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue — Rebecca Davies

39. Bring back the joy of giving – it’s time to make donors smile — Richard Radcliffe

40. Three powerful major gift questions you might not be asking — Karen Osborne

41. Continuous donor choice: fundraising’s best opportunity in ages — Jackie Fowler

42. Asking the right questions — Paul DeGregorio

43. An example of greatness in donor appreciation and recognition — Reinier Spruit

44. The 50 best blog posts of 2015! — 101fundraising

45. Rebecca’s first 47 days — Rebecca Davies

46. Reset, revive, refresh – Breathing new life into F2F — David Cravinho

47. Why tests do not work for email fundraising — Mandy Johnson

48. Fundraising’s biggest smokescreen — Jonathon Grapsas

49. Exceeding supporter expectations with a WOW! — Matthew Sherrington

50. Don’t let 1,835 cats KILL your fundraising — Rory Green

As always, you’re more than welcome to re-publish these blog posts elsewhere. If you do, please add that “this post first appeared on the 101fundraising crowdblog” with a link to our homepage. We’d also appreciate it if you would let us know. Just drop a note to meg@resource-alliance.org.


[Source: Google Analytics 1 January – 31 December 2016. Questions? E-mail us.]


We bid you farewell. Mic drop.

Dear readers. This is the last blog post from the original 101 team. As per 1 January 2017 The Resource Alliance will take over ownership and management of our beloved 101 community.

It has been the most wonderful journey anyone can imagine. Since the launch 6 years ago we’ve read so many terrific blog posts. There are too many to mention here. We’ve also met so many new fundraising friends, who we’ll treasure for the rest of our careers and probably beyond!

We would like to thank a few people: our readers, our bloggers, our donors and our team.

Reinier & Jeroen say: “THANK YOU!”

First, our readers. You have embraced 101 as it was one of your own. And by now 101 is yours! Your quest for the best fundraising insights directed you towards us, and you’ve kept coming back. Our community is hungry for knowledge. Visiting more than 1.3 million pages. And our community is huge. We now are 20k followers strong on Twitter! We’ve received so many messages from our readers on how valuable they find 101, and that feels incredibly rewarding. Readers, we thank you for your commitment, we think you’re awesome and we wish you all the best in your fundraising endeavours and challenges. Thank you!

Next, our bloggers. We can’t name everyone. There are simply too many! (Our most regular bloggers are listed below.) We are deeply grateful for all your contributions. A true crowdblog can only be successful with the help of many bloggers. And we were lucky enough that over the course of 6 years we had more than 130! Bloggers, we thank you for all you’ve written in the past, and everything you will share with us in the future. Content is King and you are Royalty… Thank you!

A special thank you to our fellow fundraising blogs – The Agitator, SOFIIClairification, Future Fundraising Now, UK Fundraising, Fundraising Detective, Osocio and Pamela Grow – for sharing our 101 insights further into the global fundraising community!

Third, our donors. After 5 years of personal financial investment, we’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign this year to cover the ongoing costs. And the response was overwhelming. We’ve read many posts about it: we should thank our donors more often. So here we go one more time: thank you dear friends, you are the best! Because of you we can deliver a state of the art platform. Thank you!

And last, our team. You’d never enjoyed 101 without the perseverance and sacrifice from our volunteer team. Publishing more than 600 posts and market them to an international non-profit audience takes time. Lots of time. And our team has spent countless hours to serve you the best of the best. Thank you Sarah, Marjolein, Victor, Elsbeth and Rebecca! You rock into eternity. Fundraisers & Friends for life. Thank you!

When we started this adventure 6 years ago we never would have thought 101 would become such a bright star in the international fundraising sector. We’re grateful for the experience and the new friends we made. Now it’s time to pass on 101 to a new source of energy: to the brilliance and expertise of The Resource Alliance. We are 101% confident that The Resource Alliance will continue in the spirit of the 101 community: sharing the best fundraising knowledge around the planet. We wish them all the views, likes and shares of the world. (The concept remains the same, so keep submitting those blogs!)

On behalf of the entire 101 team we bid you farewell.

Until we meet again in the blogosphere, or in real life.

Reinier & Jeroen

(*) Thank you Lucy Gower, Charlie Hulme, Rebecca Davies, Tony Elischer (R.I.P.), Ken Burnett, Karen Osborne, Matthew Sherrington, Margaux Smith, Rachel Beer, Sarah Clifton, Vera Peerdeman, Giles Pegram, Derek Humphries, Alison McCants, Francesco Ambrogetti, Richard Radcliffe, Rory Green, Jonathon Grapsas, Patrice Simonnet, Richard Turner, Mitchell Hinz, Jack Ryan, Gerbren Deves, Alan Clayton, Erik van Dorp, Sean Triner, Julie Verhaar, Graeme Russel, Joe Matassino, Rob Woods, Damian Chapman, Beate Sørum, Kimberley Mackenzie, Rachel Hunnybun, Simon Scriver (happy birthday!), Maeve Strathy, Adam Weinger, Usha Menon, Mike Johnston, Ellen Janssens, Lars Arnoldussen, Daryl Upsall, Paul de Gregorio, Anita Lee – de Ruijter, Paul Delbar, Brock Warner, Juan Hendrawan, Jackie Fowler, Chris Carnie, Bernard Ross, Adrian Sargeant and many, many many many many more!!

Simply the Best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q4 2016)

The final Top 10 of 2016. Simply an awesome list again. Superb content by great fundraisers. We have nothing to add. Read them all… Congrats to Matthew with the #1 position in the 4th quarter!

(The first post of 2017 will give you an overview of the best posts of 2016.)

Don’t forget: tomorrow is the final blog post from the current 101 team, before we handover our responsibilities to The Resource Alliance.

For now: read, learn, enjoy, like and share!

(1) Men in Fundraising: We have a problem. And it’s you. – Matthew Sherrington
(2) Major Gift End of the Year To-Do List – Karen Osborne
(3) A donor relationship is not a trick – Reinier Spruit
(4) The trouble with vanilla… – Lucy Gower
(5) Online charity benchmark 2016 – compare your website – Victor van der Veen
(6) Changing fundraising. For good. – Ken Burnett & Giles Pegram
(7) Make fundraising great again! – Charlie Hulme
(8) Are we managing a fundraising decline? Only if we let ourselves. – Giles Pegram
(9) I can’t thank you enough – Reinier Spruit
(10) Leadership in Fundraising Innovation – Ellen Janssens

You are more than welcome to re-publish these blog posts elsewhere. If you do, please add that it “has been published prior on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising” with a link to our crowdblog. We’d appreciate it if you inform us. Thanks!

[Source: Google Analytics 15 September – 20 December 2016. Questions? E-mail us.]

Thank you Wally!

Although I’m proud of my own 16 years in fundraising I am fully aware that I’m just a rookie compared to some old-timers out there. This post is a short tribute to one of the greatest fundraisers of his generation: Gerhard Wallmeyer, also known as “Wally”.

At the end of the year Wally retires after 36 years of superb fundraising for Greenpeace Germany, in which he as Fundraising Director has built the largest fundraising office in the Greenpeace movement.

Former Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo appropriately put it like this:

Wally: 2nd from the left. (1980)

“The struggle for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. And the biggest contribution that any one of us can make is maintaining a lifetime of involvement until we win those struggles.”

Wally did just that.

A few extraordinary achievements:

It was Wally who introduced us all to autopayments. More than half a million regular donors currently support Greenpeace Germany. In his lifetime Wally, and his team, raised more than a billion euro to give a green and peaceful future to generations to come. Yes. A billion euro.

The first time I met Wally was in 2010. I just started working for Greenpeace International and took the train to Hamburg to get to know the German fundraising program. Wally told me about his thoughtfully constructed program, which he built over the years. And although his approach to fundraising seems scientific to others, his vision on fundraising is very clear as he told me:

“Fundraising is not a science, but a systematic collection of experiences.”

During the many Fundraising Directors meetings in Greenpeace Wally always took a central role. He was passionate to share his longitudinal donor research. How to improve his donor communication by using the most appropriate vocabulary. He was always looking for improvements and innovations. Small and big.

Throughout his career Wally has influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of Greenpeace fundraisers with his knowledge and experience. That is a legacy that no value can describe.

It wasn’t very hard to find a few other fundraisers praising Wally’s career.

First Roger Craver (The Agitator) wants to share something:

“Each time you hear the terms ‘regular or monthly donor’, ‘sustainer’ and ‘direct debit’ give thanks for Wally.

I first met Wally in 1980 on a rainy Hamburg morning when our firm Craver, Mathews, Smith was working to expand Greenpeace fundraising in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Europe. My notes from that meeting: “He’s bright, iconoclastic and ready to think outside the box.” So true.

As the pioneer of the monthly, direct debit program that Wally launched in 1981 for Greenpeace Germany, his efforts have not only been a major financial anchor for Greenpeace worldwide, but a shining example for the rest of our sector.

Wally’s career is a spot on reflection of the saying, “He planted trees so others might enjoy the shade.” Job well done, Wally.”


Second, Amanda Briggs-Hastie (Greenpeace International):

“Wally is a true fundraising legend, a direct marketer extraordinaire and social scientist who has been teaching us all how to fundraise for more than 3 decades.

Wally (1991)

Long before this profession actually started acting professionally Wally was studying his supporters with a level of sophistication that made my mind boggle. I remember giggling when he told me about the meticulous testing he did with his “eye camera”. 

There is very little Wally doesn’t know about his audience. He knows what they care about, what makes them angry, what they buy and what they read, he even knows what their houses look like (I’ve seen pictures).  Through decades of being a social scientist studying his supporters he has learnt how best to engage people in Greenpeace Germany’s work and how to keep them as lifelong supporters.

He will be missed greatly from Greenpeace, for all the amazing things he has done for us. Auf wiedersehen Wally, we’ll probably still be talking of your achievements in another 3 decades!”


Third, Jan Oldfield (Greenpeace International):

“I have never had the privilege of meeting anyone else quite like Wally. Over the course of 30 years he built Greenpeace Germany’s fundraising from nothing – to a programme of 580,000 regular donors. He did it by deeply understanding his donors (who he talks of as others do friends and family), by remaining ever curious and on the look out for new ideas, and by really enjoying his work!  

His passion and commitment to both the fundraising profession and to Greenpeace are immense. Without Wally, many thousands of Greenpeace campaigns would simply not have happened, many new offices would not have been supported, and countless fundraisers around the world would not have been inspired. Thank you Wally!”


Fourth and last, Lasse Kuenzer, the man with a BIG task: Wally’s successor as Fundraising Director at Greenpeace Germany.

“Four things come to my mind when I think about my first couple of months at Greenpeace and my handover-time with Wally:

Wally (2010)

Wally (2010)

Awe looking at such an incredible base of loyal supporters – the source of Greenpeace’s power and reputation in Germany.

Enormous respect for a person that has built this organization – and its fundraising program – from scratch.

Humbleness looking at a person who has dedicated more than three decades to the cause he believed and believes in: a green and peaceful future.

And: Personal gratefulness for the way Wally has welcomed me at Greenpeace and has been sharing his experiences and learnings. 

It feels strange, probably for everybody involved, to see this “era” end – and yes, it is quite a legacy. But unfortunately the world is still not where it needs to be. So the journey needs to go on and we will work hard to continue building what Wally has started.”


I’d like to wish Wally all the best in his retirement. He has done more than a remarkable job, so please join me in thanking Wally for his contribution to our fundraising sector and making this world truly a better, greener and safer place.

Thank you Wally!

Backs to the wall or Back to The Future?

The Charity Sector is allowing itself to be bullied by the same media that championed Trump and Brexit. Our failure to mount a serious challenge to this agenda threatens to destroy decades of astonishing progress.

In October 2015, the small Dublin – based fundraising agency I ran was at the centre of a 6 page expose by the Irish Mail on Sunday. We’d only been in business for 5 months, hardly long enough to have done something to warrant the attentions of a major Sunday Newspaper. Shockingly, the story had been planned before we’d engaged a single member of the public.

We opened our doors in May 2015 and within weeks I’d been told that an IMOS reporter had been calling round charities and agencies, asking questions about me and my new agency. Eventually in early September, after we’d been in business 4 months, the journalist asked to meet me and presented me with a ‘dossier’ of claims. It turned out that the IMOS had managed to imbed 2 undercover reporters on our staff for 2 days when we were a mere 2 months old.

The claims were mostly invented or exaggerated to the point of absurdity but all designed to create more scandal about fundraising. The IMOS had taken the Fundraising Code of Conduct and attempted to illustrate where we had breached each code. One of the claims was that we disguised the fact that our fundraisers worked for an agency, even though the accompanying picture in the published article would clearly show our agents clearing wearing their ID badges with our logo visible on it. Only one claim about a fundraiser using profane language in a private conversation with a colleague during a break, was true.

From any objective view the IMOS had got nothing so when they printed the final article they added loads of salacious stuff to fill it out, including the fact that I was a ‘Jeremy Corbyn supporting lefty’ and I had recorded a hit duet with George Michael in the 1990s. The biggest thing on the page was a picture of George Michael!

I expect horrible things to come from the Mail. I wasn’t expecting the level of opprobrium we received from within the sector itself.

For some, we were guilty as charged. Like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, we had brought shame on the family and we would receive no visitors. ‘No smoke without fire’ etc. My first consultancy cancellation came in an email within 24 hours of publication. Other agencies emailed the sector widely with their misleading versions of the story while some prominent sector ‘glitterati’ began popping on public blogs adding their baseless condemnations about our supposed behaviour.

The strong advice of the representative bodies was for us to do and say nothing. Any comment from us would simply create more of an issue for the sector. I disagreed but I decided against my better judgement to acquiesce with this request.

This strategy failed. Our silence meant that no one would know our side of the story. It ensured that those who read the story would have another reason to distrust charities. The response of those representing the sector was to accept the MOS article and discuss further regulation. No defence was offered.

I mention this because I believe this strategy of hiding behind the sofa, hoping that the right-wing press, with its anti – charity agenda, won’t find us there, is dangerously short-sighted. It’s the ‘wasp’ theory. ‘It won’t sting you if you don’t annoy it’ my mum would say. It still bloody stung me. Maybe doing nothing annoys wasps? Maybe being in the charity sector annoys the Mail.

We should be fighting back. Our sector does amazing work that should be robustly defended but we don’t do this. As soon as the finger of suspicion is pointed by the media, regardless of how appalling we know that media outlet to be, regardless of all the awful, horrible made-up bullshit they churn out, we either turn on the accused or shut up shop till the storm passes. Sometimes both.

From The Sun

Even in instances of high scandal we need to do more to defend the work of organisations involved. Such events at an Irish suicide charity resulted in the whole organisation closing when the alleged issue was clearly and specifically located with the CEO (and his family). This was a charity that helped thousands of people affected by suicide; its work had a real impact. Surely it was not beyond the best in the sector to make a case for a cleaned-up organisation to remain operational, based on the IMPACT its work has had.

We need to understand that many of these media attacks have less to do with governance than they do with ideology. When we see the return of headlines this winter condemning UK development charities for sending aid abroad to places like Aleppo and Sudan when British homes are being flooded then we need to understand the narrow chauvinistic ideology behind this. We will never appeal to these people.

Maybe Charities could follow the advice of Stop Targeting Hate and not place any advertising with News International, DMG Media or Express Newspapers.

It’s essential that we become experts at defending the work we do and demonstrating our impact. While we need great ambassadors for our work we also need skilled and battle-hardened media representatives to mix it up on our behalf. We must start defending work before it becomes indefensible. It’s all about impact.

We should also learn to be more supportive of organisations in our sector that have trouble of this kind. It might be tempting to speculate on blogs but I tell you, every comment counts.

The ch13arity sector is currently George McFly and DMG Media (particularly) is our Biff Tannen. When Biff is around we stare grimly into our milkshakes while he hurls abuse at us unabated.

George McFly found the courage to hit back. Will we? 

Men in Fundraising: We have a problem. And it’s you.

Only a few years ago a senior UK fundraiser was quoted in an article about staff development. He talked of getting his female staff mentors, to help them behave in a more ‘feminine’ way in their relationships at work and with donors. I’ve always remembered it, because I remember my jaw literally dropping.

Women in Fundraising

Have things moved on? Not much, if the Men and Women’s Survey published last week by the UK’s Fundraising Magazine is anything to go by. It’s subscriber-only content, but here are the headlines.

unknownThirty-eight per cent of women respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. (15% of men, too). There’s a pay gap. There’s a seniority gap. In a sector comprising 74% women, women have just 44 of the top 100 fundraising director jobs. Just a third of the UK’s polled ’50 most influential fundraisers’ are women. 41% of women fundraisers think women are adequately represented at a senior level. A full 71% of men think that’s the case. Is this any better in other countries?

Men identified just one major barrier to women progressing in fundraising, and that was women having to balance work and family. This was also the biggest barrier for women too, but they identified others as well – being perceived as less committed to work because of family, organisational culture, lacking confidence, being less ambitious, differences in personal style, and lacking senior female role models. There’s an irony.

As Lizzi Hollis says in this commentary, “the men have no idea”. She quotes this saying too: “When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

Sexism Persists in our Sector

It’s tricky. Is it ‘mansplaining’ for me as a bloke to weigh in on this issue? If I don’t, am I complicit with the 71% of men in fundraising who apparently don’t think we have a problem? I expect any comments to this piece will help me find out. So, checking my ‘unearned privilege’ as a white, straight, middle-class man (thanks to Simone Joyaux for that phrase, from her work on power), let’s carry on.

We can share a knowing laugh at the casual sexism of the 60s and 70s through the ironic lens of TV series like Mad Men and Good Girls Revolt. It’s less funny when women still experience casual sexism today, and indeed, sexual harassment.

I spent my first fourteen years of work at Oxfam, and I realised soon after I left how much attention Oxfam had given to diversity, gender and multiculturalism, and in understanding unconscious bias. Obviously, that was aligned with the values of its mission. In my next job I was stunned, in my naiveté, to find that progressive values were not universal in the sector. Sexism was open and rife. And of course it lingers throughout non-profits, from Boards downwards.

Imposter Syndrome

Something that seems to afflict mostly women, and perhaps hinders their career progression, is Imposter Syndrome. More people are talking about it, which is a good thing. Here are two great blogs by Cerian Jenkins and Lizzi Hollis. Amanda Palmer spoke at the International Fundraising Congress of ‘the Fraud Police’ constantly on her shoulder. This 2011 speech of hers gives you a flavour (there’s a great joke about a brain surgeon.)

Judging from the many women I have managed and coached over the years, it seems horribly common, and combines with a higher incidence of burnout, as high-achieving women feel they have to prove themselves even more. I tend to think not many men suffer from it – but what do I know? Men don’t talk about their vulnerabilities, so maybe we all do and are just better bull-shitters.

But I have it. And I’m a consultant, I coach people and I write these blogs. Who the hell am I to offer anyone insight, advice or an opinion? I get over it with a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, challenging negative feelings by looking at the evidence.

Winning a job in the US several years ago, for example. “I’ve no idea what Matthew does,” my aunt said to my mum, “but I suppose he must be good at it.” A Brit in America? My imposter syndrome went through the roof. But yes, the evidence suggested I was.

More people talking about it can help others feel better about their own insecurities. But they don’t go away. As my mum told me, when I asked her when she started to feel properly grown up, confident and in control of life: “Never.”

Tall Poppy Syndrome

tall_poppy_syndromeMore insidious, is Tall Poppy Syndrome, that irrepressible urge some people have to put others in their place and cut them down to size, (to lop off the head of the tall poppy, rising above the weeds).

It’s what goes on in social media. Belittling personal abuse of strangers. Cutting put-downs. Being told you’re a ‘snowflake’ if you can’t handle the banter. Amanda Palmer spoke of the abuse she’d get from strangers as a street performance artist, people shouting at her to get a proper job. And worse.

A young fundraiser told me at the IFC of being taken to task, not once, but by several more senior fundraisers, for not having earned her profile, or the right to express the ideas she blogged and presented on. Two other women in charities have told me of similar experiences. “Get back in your box”, one was told by her male boss. Isolated cases?

Judging people’s performance is one thing. Thinking they are not worthy is another. But feeling, and acting on, the need to share that to someone’s face is on another level. It might be insecurity at work, people puffing themselves up by diminishing others they feel threatened by. But it’s also called bullying.

In a sector about doing good, a sector dominated by women but led mostly by men, such unkindness has no place. Who are you to cut people down to size? Check your privilege. Check your attitude. Check your bias. Check your insecurity. If you can’t say anything nice, think about whether to say nothing at all.

Step Forward, Step Back, Step Up

We do have a job to do, as a sector, to nurture talent and the stars of the future. Given most fundraisers are women, most stars of the future should be too. If it’s true that more women suffer Imposter Syndrome, what a double-whammy to then have to contend with bullying put-downs (not always from men, it should be said). So we have a problem. And we all have a role to play in addressing that.

Women need to step forward, but may need encouragement to overcome issues of confidence, bias and organisational culture. Men need to step back. Not because it’s your space to graciously give, just to check yourself from being a dick. More importantly, men need to step up, be aware of your privilege and help push forward women’s progression. The Lean In website has some tips just for men. After all, it’s 2016.

And everyone, can you just make sure you’re a bit kinder to others?

P.S. I leave you with the inspiring words of Marianne Williamson. Words many people think are Nelson Mandela’s, after he quoted them. Typical, eh?


Major Gift End of the Year To-Do List

Major gift end of the year to dos are not the same as your annual giving big push and wrap up.

For annual giving, your focus is on the final appeal for the year, working on getting the words just right and the letter out the door. You’ve reviewed all of your leadership donors ($1,000+) and have board members and volunteers calling as many as possible who’ve yet to commit. Your holiday cards are being hand written, addressed and stamped so you can drop them on December 1.

This is keeping you busy.

Major gift donors, however, also need special attention this time of year even if they are not planning to make a major gift over the next six weeks. Here are five major gift end of the year to dos to consider.

  1. When is the last time you made them say, “Wow?” Pull out your list of top donors and potential donors. When was their last “impact and outcome” report, communication or experience? What reaction did you receive? What could you do now that would make a specific donor feel valued?

For example, could your CEO call a few people a day, every day between now and December 29? “I just wanted to personally wish you all the best for the holidays (for the New Year) and thank you again for all you’ve contributed to our success. Our (the people, cause, animals you serve) could not have (impact) without you.”

Could the holiday card have a special handwritten message from a member of the program staff? Could a bouquet of flowers arrive with a special and personal message tied to the impact of his or her investment in your organization?

Name of Donor Gifts of Money, Time, Talent, Wisdom, Connections Last Impact Report, Communication, or Experience Date What Might You Do Now?


  1. Make their annual fund solicitation (or stewardship) strategic. If you’ve not yet solicited your major gift donor or prospective donor for a leadership annual gift of $1,000+, don’t include them in the general appeal or even the volunteer call list. What are you hoping for, working towards in terms of a major gift? Not the amount but the purpose, impact and outcome. Connect their annual gift to that purpose.

For example, if you believe the right gift might be the new $50,000 tolerance initiative (add zeros depending on your circumstances), then tie their annual gift to your everyday activities that help foster tolerance in the community.

If they’ve already made a leadership annual gift, when you are implementing step one above, tie the appreciation and impact message (stewardship) to tolerance work.

  1. Revamp your individual donor plans. I know you’re swamped with work and family obligations. But targeting three hours over the next few weeks to think about each of your major gift donors and prospective donors, reviewing your written donor engagement and solicitation strategy or plan, and updating it, will help you with steps one and two as well as hit the ground running in January.
  1. Take a moment to stop and assess the year. Celebrate all that you’ve accomplished. Measure your accomplishments. Set yourself up for major gift success in 2017. And don’t forget the non-metric factors. Following is an excellent article of those things that make us great that the number of visits, major gifts closed, and dollars in don’t necessarily measure.
  1. Finally, remember that your major gift to do list includes taking care of you. If you are stressed, over wrought, not having time for family and friends, failing to get that doctor’s appointment or get to the gym or read that book or SLEEP, then your major gift to do list is an item short. When you are in top condition, peak performance results. When you are exhausted, donor results suffer. Trust me on this.

Taking care of you is an essential item on your major gift end of the year to do list.

What do you need the money for?

It’s a straight forward question for any fundraiser, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it can be to answer.

As a donor, I usually phone up charities to give them my money. I like to speak to a human being and have the chance to ask questions if I want to. I always ask the people on the end of the phone what the money I’m giving will go towards. I’m not expecting a precise answer but you’d be surprised how often people don’t have any answer at all.

This matters because when you can define things for people, and show them how the money they are giving will help, everything is so much better.

trusseltrustTake the Trussell Trust for example. Here at Burnett Works we have recently started working with them and we’ve been looking into all of the amazing stuff they do. The Trust runs and supports foodbanks up and down the country. It also runs a huge data collection programme that can really drive how policy makers view poverty and social problems.

And that is all brilliant, but it’s not why people give their money.

People give because they are appalled that families should be going without food, right here in their town, city or village, in the 21st century. They want to do something to help.

And they give because they want to give more than just a sticking plaster to a person’s problems. They know that the Trust is about more than just emergency food. It’s about helping people with debt, or a stalled benefit payment, or a terrible landlord.

And they give because the Trust is the first friend many people have seen in an absolute age. They’ve probably been lost in a maze of other services where information can often be cold and clinical, and where finding the right way out of a problem can feel very difficult. That’s until they arrive at a Trussell Trust foodbank and are greeted with a cup of tea, a biscuit and – most importantly of all – a friendly person who is there to listen.

We know this stuff because we went out and asked. We asked people who run the Trussell Trust. We met the people who run the foodbanks. We spoke with the donors themselves. And we saw it for ourselves because we went to volunteer at the foodbanks. I went to volunteer with my own family during the school holidays and the experience and stories have stuck.

I heard a story about a baby who’d worn the same nappy for two weeks because her family didn’t have the money to buy more. I learned about how the foodbank gave her parents new nappies, and the cream needed to soothe their baby’s inflamed skin. And I saw how they and families just like them got all the help they needed in one place. How they came in, desperate for help and food, and left with a plan.

At the start of all of this, I’d been through documents and reports about the Trust. I’d read up on the training it provided, the data it collected and that side of the work. Important, yes, absolutely. But the day my family spent with them was a world away from all of that. By speaking to people, and by volunteering, we’d hurdled all the technical stuff about how the Trust operates – the number of locations, the cost per head – and landed in amongst the reasons why people love it. We’d found something people would want to hear when they ask that direct question: ‘What do you need the money for?’.

That simple act of ‘listening and learning’ underpins everything here at Burnett Works but it’s something that you and your organisation can do too. Don’t have a set idea of what you’re wanting to hear – just listen. And do your best to forget about ‘impact’ and ‘reach’ and all of the terms you’ll find in your strategy documents and annual reports. Instead listen out for the little, personal things. The human stuff.

Because when you find that stuff and build your approach around it, you’ll connect – or reconnect – with people. You’ll be understanding why they care about you. Try it for yourself. I promise you’ll see the difference. And then it’s worth talking about impact.

The Resource Alliance takes over 101fundraising!

International Fundraising Congress, The Netherlands – The Resource Alliance is pleased to announce that as of 1 January 2017, it will take over respected fundraising blog 101fundraising (www.101fundraising.org).

The blog, which was created by Dutch fundraising advisor Reinier Spruit and online marketer Jeroen Beelen in 2011, will become part of the Resource Alliance’s new digital platform, The Resource Café.

We’ve been running 101 with great passion and enthusiasm for almost six years,” Spruit explains. “In that time we’ve had more than 100 international bloggers delivering fantastic global fundraising insights in almost 600 high-quality blog posts. We’ve been able to build a sharing and debating community of fundraisers that did not exist yet in the fundraising sector.

However, we’ve reached a point where we believe that 101 needs a new source of energy to manage our platform if we want it to survive and thrive over the next decade,” Beelen adds.

traThe Resource Alliance, which curates the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) in the Netherlands each October and other learning and leadership initiatives around the world, is based on a foundation of collaboration and shared knowledge to help nonprofits create transformational change internally and in those affected by their missions.

101fundraising has been the official blogging partner of the IFC for five years. The Resource Alliance is a “fantastic successor,” Beelen says, “because sharing fundraising knowledge is at the heart of their mission.

The new contact person at 101fundraising will be Meg Gardner, chief scribe at The Resource Alliance and former editor of FundRaising Success (now Nonprofit Pro) in the US. The original 101fundraising team’s last official post will be 22 December, and The Resource Alliance will take over 1 January, 2017.

There’s such a lovely synergy here,” Gardner says. “101 was built on the concept that fundraisers can reach and teach each other, and benefit from shared knowledge. The Resource Alliance’s new manifesto speaks of mobilising to make change happen, of minds meeting, ideas unleashing, thoughts converging, and power multiplying. This is a perfect fit.

Questions, remarks or congratulations? Let us know in the comments!

The trouble with vanilla…

office-geekOver the years I’ve observed sparky, funny, passionate and clever people morph into vanilla shells of their former selves as they enter their office to get on with their professional job of being a fundraiser.

It’s a strange phenomenon. Somehow through our drive to excel in what we do – to reach targets, climb a career ladder, ‘fit in’ or conform to the expectations of a working environment – we over-professionalise ourselves and lose the essence of what makes us extraordinary individuals. It seems the office can strip us of our true identity.

For me, meeting in a relaxing space like a coffee shop – as one client recently put it “where people can be themselves”, rather than in office meeting rooms has become commonplace.

I run team training days and workshops, and we always get better results when they are off site and away from the daily grind. I believe we get better results because leaving the office distances us from every-day routines and ‘business as usual’; helping to put us in a different space and mind-set. When one delegate told me it was a relief to be away from the “stressful work environment”, it made me ponder:

Shouldn’t our day-to-day working environment be a place where we can function without stress and just be ourselves?

And our very best selves at that?

Chicken and egg

Is it the physical environment of the office space that causes us to deposit our true selves at the door, or is it a personality shift as we pass through reception that serves to make many working environments so dysfunctional?

I’ve observed time and time again that people conform to what they believe is expected of them, and the result is mostly mediocrity. Yet they still manage to revert back to their true self when they leave the office at the end of the day. It’s little wonder that their messages don’t stand out, and their fundraising feels so hard. I’m afraid that one of the reasons it’s so hard is because everyone is blending in and doing the same things.

I know that people do business with individuals they know, like and trust; these could be internal colleagues, suppliers, business partners or supporters. Yet if everyone is filtering or dumbing down their true selves, does it make working relationships easy to build or allow trust to develop quickly? And does it make for more successful fundraising for the causes we are all trying to help? I don’t think it does.

Has any charity or individual not been given a donation because they had too much rapport, were too personable or constructed a relationship which contained too much trust? I don’t think so.

Serving up chickens and eggs

There is much to learn on this topic from Hawksmoor, a rapidly growing restaurant brand in London. They credit their success to their people strategy, which encourages staff to embrace their individual personalities. This makes employees happier at work, which in turn creates a more friendly and enjoyable environment for customers. Hawksmoor goes out of its way to employ people for their wide range of personalities and experiences. Staff all work to exceptional standards, and they all bring their true selves to work everyday. You can hear more here in an interview with Will Beckett of Hawskmoor.

350ml-creative-building-blocks-personality-plastic-water-bottle-diy-office-personal-drinkwareTomorrow, make sure you bring your personality to work

At Lucidity, we’ve been helping teams bring their personalities to work by encouraging them to identify their own unique approaches to innovation, and by coaching individuals and teams to play to their strengths.

Check out our innovation animal quiz. Be yourself, have fun doing it and let me know what innovation animal you are – this could be your first step to unlocking your ‘true you’ at the office.

Let’s not leave our personalities at the door when we arrive at work. If you are a manager, help your team be their best ‘them’. If you recruit, recruit people for their differences as well as their similarities.

But ultimately, you must be your best you. That’s when exceptional results happen.

After all, no one strives for vanilla.

Simply the Best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q3 2016)

And that was the third quarter already. You know what that means, right? The IFC is almost starting! Will we see you there?

Congrats to Charlie with the #1 position this quarter. But there are more beauties in this list. In fact, they are all awesome!

Read, like and share!

(1) What are the Two Most Dangerous Assumptions in Fundraising? – Charlie Hulme
(2) What is fundraising success? – Richard Turner
(3) How Far Do I Want To Go With You? – The Whiny Donor
(4) Why are we fundraising and how can we do it better? – Charlie Hulme
(5) Reset, revive, refresh – Breathing new life into F2F – David Cravinho
(6) “Because it works” is not a good enough answer. Here’s why. – Matthew Sherrington
(7) You sent me a mail pack. A mail pack… I never get those. – Rachel Beer
(8) Why tests do not work for email fundraising – Mandy Johnson
(9) Here be dragons – Richard Turner
(10) HELP NEEDED: Jailed in Dubai for Helping Children – Ken Burnett

You are more than welcome to re-publish these blog posts elsewhere. If you do, please add that it “has been published prior on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising” with a link to our crowdblog. We’d appreciate it if you inform us. Thanks!

[Source: Google Analytics 15 June – 30 September 2016. Questions? E-mail us.]

Authentic Fundraising: The Clark Kent Approach

When I introduced the Authentic Fundraiser I talked about the need for a less traditional sales approach. In this post I’m going to dig a little deeper into how “professional” fundraising professionals should be?

People have been practicing acts of philanthropy to address social needs for thousands of years. It is only in the last 30 or so years that we have “professionalized” ourselves. Formal education programs for working in the charitable sector are still fairly new. Advanced degrees are brand new.

Those of us in our late forties have most likely fallen into this career through our volunteer work. We are “Accidental Fundraisers”. For me I often described my education like twisting a rope as I climb the mountain. When I needed to know how to do something I would read a book or go to a workshop. I didn’t choose this profession – I fell into it through my passion. Like many people my age, I started doing it for free because I wanted to accomplish something. Eventually, the executive director at the charity I fell in love with first offered to start paying me for raising money.

christopher_reeve_superman-11Posing this question about being “too professional” in no way suggests that we need to become less legitimate. I am deeply grateful to all of the educators I have had the privilege of learning from during my career. Organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), The Resource Alliance, The Institute of Fundraising and Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) have worked to ensure that we all operate with a high degree of accountability.

Those of us who are members of these organizations have made a commitment to conduct business within an ethical framework. We must continue to have professional associations whose mandate it is to advance our sector by advocating for good government policies. Up to date training and more awareness for our role in society is of great value.

We are committed to earning the trust donors place in us. Yes, I believe all of that is important and serves to unite us as a sector.

Are we too professional?

Here is the kicker though. I am worried that in our sprint to “professionalize” ourselves we alienated ourselves from our communities. I’m worried that we have lost some authenticity at the core of what we do and who we are.

Fundraising isn’t a transactional business like banking or buying a coffee. Fundraising is about aligned passion. We need to be able to open our hearts to donors. Ultimately we are all human beings who share the same values.

From the trenches

Ten years ago I was working at a conservation organization and many of my major donor visits took place cottages on a lake. At the time I was only six years into my career and really punching above my weight. I was very ambitious and took myself very seriously. To me, this job was a big deal.

I found myself interacting daily with some very accomplished people. My donor visits were with retired C-level executives and people who had received the order of Canada. They usually took place at their cottage on weekends.

In order to play in their sandbox I felt I needed to be very “professional”. I wore a suit to every donor visit. I was there to do a job and learn all about them, their families and their ability to give. I behaved so professionally, that I did not tell them anything about who I really was. That is what I thought I SHOULD do. I wanted to set a good example for the profession of fundraising. I was wrong.

Two years into the job I came to realize that while visiting donors at their cottage I bloody well better have a pair of hiking boots and a swimming suit with me! I was more successful if I connected on a more personal level. They enjoyed the visit more if they saw my kids swimming in the lake during the meeting. We all knew that eventually we would be talking about their donation. No one lost sight of that. The work just became a lot more fun! And a lovely bi-product was that we started building a very successful major gift program.

In my experience donors don’t want your visits to be all about them. Donors want to get to know you as a human being who shares their values. That is why working in an organization that you really love is so important. It creates a common ground from which you are able to build rapport.

A warning: Stay positive

By all means share information about yourself. Talk about your family. Share pictures of your children. These are things that make us human. I would however, caution you to be smart about it. Remember we want people to feel good about spending time with us.

beyourselfoscarwildeUltimately, our job is to inspire a stronger connection between the donor and our organization. So refrain from being SO open you start venting about things like a divorce you are going through or negative feelings about your mother in law or your drug addicted teenager – or even the flat tire you got on the way there. This isn’t girl’s night! Above all else: stay positive so that people feel inspired and lifted up after your visit. But do open your heart.

Ours is a noble, worthy profession that can be deeply satisfying. It is also a very new profession. Yes, it is our job to help people understand how this business works. However, we need to do it without hitting donors (and co-workers for that matter.) over the head with a hammer.

By all means channel your inner super hero, but approach your day-to-day interactions with grace, humanity and humility. Be more like Clark Kent and more people will want to support your efforts.

Leadership in Fundraising Innovation

For more than a decade there have been no radical changes to our fundraising strategies and techniques. Recent developments, in and outside our sector, will force us to develop new ways to engage with our supporters and innovations that go beyond the fundraising departments.

Next to the impact of regulatory changes (such as taking place in the UK), we will have to be ready for a new type of donor, one that is demanding a totally different relationship with the charity of his/her choice.

But there is more. We have to look outside of our own sector too, and see what the future has in store for us. Digital technology is disrupting every industry: radical changes in the value-chain are taking place in all sectors, as is already clearly visible in retail and in the financial sector. New roles and new players are emerging, thus forcing ‘the middle man’ to find new and better ways to keep adding real value.thumbnail_magic

At the IFC 2015 Usha Menon already articulated: “If charities do not add sufficient value, they will be cut out as the middle man.” Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as our primary goal is accomplished.

However, I strongly believe that charities can add more than sufficient value, and that the opportunities are growing with the help of new technologies. Big Data, sharing of goods/knowledge, and new donation models resulting e.g. from the Blockchain technology, can surely be threats, but they also present interesting new opportunities for charities. However, this will require leadership: real creative and strategic thinking followed by bold decisions.

I absolutely agree with Kyla Shawyer’s statement in her blog on the need for a new kind of non-profit leadership: “We need big, transformational change in the sector, and that relies on leaders who are fearless enough and innovative enough to make decisions to ensure the long-term success of their organizations and the achievement of their mission.”

The blog focuses on Fundraising Leadership as the one role uniting the entire organization.
However, in my opinion we have to look at non-profit leadership from a wider perspective. Yes, the silos will have to be broken down. But non-profit leadership and, to be more specific, non-profit innovation, should not have fundraising as its only focus.

Let me explain.

The Future Donor: from fundraising to enabling supporters

First of all, we have to look at our supporters from a wider perspective than just considering them as ‘people delivering cash’. Social media are becoming one of our most important channels of communication. In the profit sector, Influencer Marketing is gaining momentum. Person-to-person fundraising has become a continuously growing part of our fundraising revenues. Therefore, the time and network that supporters are willing to share to accomplish our goals, may be of a much higher value than the mere donation they are able to make.

Furthermore, in an era where knowledge is more often shared (and more valuable) than ever before, the expertise that our supporters can share with us might very well have more impact. For example in crowdsourcing our fundraising innovation, or – even broader – in new ways to contribute to our core mission.

Even if we would only focus on Relationship or Donor Centric Fundraising: to increase the loyalty of our donors in their Customer Journey, we have to give them the opportunity to support our mission in the way they would like to. In the way THEY feel they can make a difference. Therefore, when we talk about the Future Donor, he or she should be able to donate cash, but also time, network, expertise and ideas.

From Fundraising Innovation to Non-profit Innovation

As stated before, an important part of non-profit leadership is creating transformational change. It is however my strong belief that (radical) non-profit innovation goes beyond innovation in fundraising alone. Of course there are some interesting new fundraising techniques, such as:

• Swipe to donate (see a/o ‘Tap to give is a trend charities can’t ignore’ )
• Experience Marketing: The use of Virtual Reality for fundraising (see Unicef, charity: water and Amnesty’s Virtual reality Aleppo)
• Social Media/online campaigns/virals, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
• Chatbots, like e.g. the charity: water virtual journey.

Yet, they are not much more than that: fundraising techniques. Their success largely depends on highlighting the most relevant and most inspiring examples of your core activities. Activities for which people are still willing to donate, even though people seem to become increasingly weary about donating to charities.

More and more, I’m arriving at the conclusion that there simply will not be a next ‘Big Fundraising Thing’, such as DM, TM or face-to-face fundraising have been. Just more fundraising techniques that, in the end, are easily duplicated by any charity. They will sooner and sooner lead to saturation, if not irritation, with our audiences.

True innovation will only come from combining fundraising innovation with inspiring new innovative concepts in our core activities. The ‘Next Big Thing’ will be something unique to your organization.

Transformational change will only be created by innovation that is truly organization-wide. Innovations that inspire our supporters to contribute to the next step, to a breakthrough in reaching our mission. Combined with providing the cutting edge in donating to supporting our organization, in ways that are convenient and fulfilling to our supporters.

To accomplish this, we need innovation leadership that combines the optimal ways to engage with our supporters with inspiring new ways to support our beneficiaries.

As an Innovation Manager I often get surprised reactions when I explain that my responsibilities go beyond fundraising innovation, and are also focused on achieving new ways of trying to accomplish our core mission: fighting cardiovascular diseases. I strongly believe this is the only way to innovate successfully. The only way to be a part of the necessary transformational changes.


This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year!

At the IFC 2016 Ellen will host a workshop (‘Lessons learned as a non-profit innovation manager’), where she will be sharing some insights in successes and failures, and discuss current strategy and view on the needs of the future donor. The workshop also identifies some strategic and day-to-day challenges in the process of becoming a more innovative non-profit organization.

Why are we fundraising and how can we do it better?

Another year, another IFC. Another round of presentations ranging from the transformative (none more so than this masterclass, ‘Reinventing the Donor Experience’ by Kevin Schulman and Adrian Sargeant) to the tawdry (tempting but unfair to name but, like any conference, always plenty of choice).

And of course another jaunty slogan. So what is it this year? ‘Asking the right questions’. ifc-2016

So, what questions are you asking? Well, if you’re tired of running just to stand still; of investing time, money and effort into ‘new’ fundraising programmes that yield the same, predictably underwhelming, results, you’re probably asking:

‘What needs to change before my results do?’

There’s a very clear answer, one that’s already been adopted by a growing number of forward thinking charities. And it’s what I’m looking forward to co-presenting with two good friends and great fundraisers Rachel Hunnybun and Richard Turner in our session ‘How to be a fundraising changemaker’.

Is there any sector more resistant to change than ours? Medicine, science, technology, in fact just about any field you care to mention, are constantly changing their point of view. It’s fundamental to their evolution and growth.

When was the last time our sector changed its mind? change-mind

When was the last time we took a good look at our mindset, our ironically labelled ‘best practice’, and asked ‘Is this as good as it gets?’ Given that our results have stayed flat for many, many years, you’d think it was a question worth asking. Yet very few do.

The sad fact is that, for all their great intentions and noble ambitions, far too many charities don’t truly know why they are fundraising or how to do it any better than they’ve always done it.

In our session, Richard Turner will look at the ‘why are we fundraising part’. So let me briefly touch on the ‘how to do it better’.

Imagine for a moment you were starting a new charity, or business, and you needed to go to the bank for a start-up loan. And imagine your business plan was the same business plan that just about every charity currently operates on. You’d be laughed out the room! Why? Well, how would the conversation go?

Bank manager: So, tell me a little about your new venture.  bank-manager

Applicant: Well, we plan to systematically email, mail and call people about whom we know absolutely nothing and regularly ask them for money on an irritatingly frequent basis.

Bank manager: Hmmmm, I think I might be missing something here. Can you run over that bit about your audience again?

Applicant: Well, of course we plan to capture and store transactional and demographic information. And while it’s been conclusively shown that these give us zero insight into why people do what they do, we’ve decided to skip over that bit and just presume for them. We think they’ll find that more engaging.

Bank manager: Eh?

Applicant: You look a bit bemused. Let me explain. Instead of simply and scientifically capturing and acting on audience identity, preference and experience, we’d rather keep things simple and just guess. But don’t worry, we have every intention of increasing the volume of irritating stuff we send by sending them plenty of engagement pieces.

Bank manager: And what would they find engaging?

Applicant: We have absolutely no idea, but…

Bank manager: Security!

Farcical? Sadly not. Far too many charities are content to carry on with a volume based business model, that’s been proven to cause irritation. Their justification? That sending more stuff didn’t negatively impact giving (in the very short term of the study period).  And that it actually garnered incrementally more donations.

What could be wrong with that (aside from the screamingly obvious that knowingly causing irritation can hardly be sustainable!)? The bit where it actually isn’t raising more money at all. Just shifting donations. There’s no net increase in giving if you include the next period of time (i.e. where the money was shifted from).

In other words, squeeze a little more out of this year, piss off those who aren’t going to stick around next year, and do it over and over and over just to hit the same groundhog day number.

So, if you’re tired of nothing changing, the only question to ask yourself is ‘Which do I think will perform better; a journey where I don’t know my donors or where I do?’ 


This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year!

Who likes change?

Several years ago I went through a hefty psychometric evaluation for a role I was interviewing for. It was a great experience that left me with a fifty page document all about me and how I behave. I still refer to that document at times, just to remind myself who I am!

After completing pages and pages of questions, the assessor gave me a quick overview.

‘You don’t like change do you Rachel’

‘What? Are you joking? I love it! Let me tell you about the time I changed the database, the programme, the process, the structure, the copy…even the office furniture. I’ve moved house so many times my mother’s run out of pages in her address book! I love it!’

‘Ok, bear with me. How long have you had your mobile phone?’

‘Two… actually no, three years’

‘How old is your car?’

‘I’ve had it since new, so that’s…seven years’

rachel_1Why is that? Affordability? Or do you love your phone so much you can’t bear to upgrade it?’

‘Um, no, I just….’


I ended up getting that job and almost immediately embarked on one of the most difficult change processes of my career to date. It was also one of the more challenging times of my career to date.

I would still say that I’m ok with change, but it appears that there are changes (mainly vehicles and technology as it would seem) that make me really uncomfortable. I break out in a cold sweat when my car insurance is due because I know that will inevitably involve change. It actually makes me a really loyal customer whether I’m satisfied or not, (which is a whole other story!).

I learnt something that day. I realised that disliking change is human nature, and I now think anyone who says they like it perhaps hasn’t yet realised which type(s) of change they are uncomfortable with.

So why do we do it?

In every job I’ve had, I’ve almost always found myself in situations where I’ve been instrumental in wanting to change things, and at varying levels of seniority. So it’s no surprise really that I found my way into fundraising. A big part of what attracts us to being a fundraisers is our passion to change the world for the better, but it’s much harder to change the wider world without being able to  change our internal world, the world we ourselves operate within.

We need a constant sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of ambition, a sense of things that could – and should – be done better, bigger and differently. The world is changing all the time, and to keep up, we need to accept that instigating and implementing change is as much as part of our rachel_2job as raising money. Because in order to do the best for our beneficiaries, we simply have to be able to influence and implement both big and small changes, whatever level we work at.

But change making is a difficult nut to crack, which might be why there are way more conference sessions on how to write great fundraising copy than how to go about practically implementing change!

It’s as much about ‘who’ as ‘what’…

From transformational change that will redirect the ship, through to step changes that take an organisation closer to where it needs to be, there is one common denominator that you need to take into account regardless of what the change is.


chimpanzeesPeople will either make change successful, or be responsible for its failure. People have the ability to approve or block change, help or hinder the process. People are the most important part of your change process.

From a CEO with an ego the size of Mount Vesuvius through to a quiet supporter care officer determined to ignore the digital revolution. Working out how to manage any kind of change firstly means identifying who you are dealing with and what they are uncomfortable with – both higher up and lower down.

By asking the right questions right at the start of the process, you can work out how to inspire and reassure people rather than unnerve and scare them. Because if you get the people bit right, making change becomes a whole lot easier.

And that’s just the start…

At IFC this year, along with Charlie Hulme and Richard Turner, I’ll be sharing some of the things I have learnt about making change. Together we hope to inspire you to be a catalyst for change in your organisation. We will guide you through some of the tools and techniques we have used, take you through some of the theory behind the practical and we will share with you some of the most crucial questions to ask.


This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year!



Transformative change depends on a new kind of leader

Non-profits are no longer guaranteed a free lunch. We have to work harder than ever to raise the funds we need, which — as we have seen in many instances around the world — leaves us vulnerable to accusations of hard selling. The potential impact of this on trust and confidence — and therefore our ability to support the world’s most vulnerable communities — is worrying. After all, this isn’t just about money. It’s about people, animals, our environment … and in some cases, quite literally the difference between life and death.

However, despite the criticism that has been directed at our sector lately, little seems to have changed. It appears to be business as usual for many charities.

That’s unfortunate, but not surprising. The social impact sector is built on passion, which is good. What’s not good is when passion for the mission translates to passionate stubborn adherence to practices and mind-sets that support the status quo. And it does – too often, especially when the status quo is seems to be working.

12191214_321299961327177_7045420405178721609_oThe Resource Alliance has been working to identify the root problems around this issue, scope out potential solutions, find new pathways forward and create disruptive change. We haven’t found all the answers, but what we do know is that this isn’t just about refining and improving the tools and techniques we use. Although that’s important, this is about more than that. It’s about organisational culture and values systems. And more than anything, it’s about leadership.

We need big, transformational change in the sector, and that relies on leaders who are fearless enough and innovative enough to make decisions to ensure the long-term success of their organisations and the achievement of their mission – even when those decisions are difficult, unpopular or a little scary. Especially when they are.

Understanding the donor experience
Non-profits that offer the right kind of leadership enable supporters to feel connected to the cause. Poor leadership tends to have the opposite effect. It can manifest in short-term, transactional fundraising vs. longer-term relationship building with a shared value set developed between the charity and the donor.

When was the last time you asked your donors why they support you or how they feel about being a part of your work? At a previous organisation where I served, we asked donors of all giving levels why they gave and literally recorded their answers. We then brought everyone from the organisation — board and all — into a theatre, turned down the lights and asked them to just listen. It was immensely powerful to hear the words directly from our donors and helped the whole organisation truly connect with and understand their thoughts and feelings, and to see them as the integral part of the organization that they were. When we thought about our cause and our impact from the perspective of the donor, it opened up internal communications, helped to unite our fundraising and programmes teams, and influenced our ongoing approach to donor communications.

Relationship fundraising expert Ken Burnett talks about how his mother felt about the frequency and format of the mailings she received when became a “lapsed” donor. The fundraisers were focused on reactivating the file, with seemingly little consideration of the person at the end of the letters. “They are always shouting at me,” was how she described it.

“I worry more about fundraising leadership now than ever. I’m not sure it is necessarily worse but that fundraising needs leadership more. We really need to seriously examine how we do things,” Burnett says. “We need to find a way of keeping donors longer, of improving customer experience — and we need strong fundraising leadership to help us do this.”

He’s not alone in this. Other fundraisers are raising the same concerns:2e3f84ea-ae02-41be-8603-d0adc68f76c7-original

“We need to understand what it is that makes us different and why we have the right to ask for money,” says Ruth Ruderham, director of development at Prince’s Trust International. “Even organisations that have been out there for a long time don’t always understand this. Non-profits really come into ascendance when they find their why; they are so much more able to connect with the public.

Joe Jenkins, director of fundraising and supporter engagement at The Children’s Society, concurs that while money is important, great fundraising leaders focus their attention beyond that.

“They don’t just deliver more cash,” he says. “Their strategic vision, insights, supporter focus and clarity of core purpose help transform the approach of the whole charity and its impact in the world.”

Taking the long view
This difference between “transactional” and “transformational” leadership may hold the key to understanding why we’re experiencing such challenging times. Transactional leaders tend to be solely concerned with keeping the ship afloat and making sure everything flows smoothly today. Annual budgets are reviewed with a fine-toothed comb, and fundraisers are under intense pressure to generate returns now. Transformational leaders, on the other hand, place attention on long-term results and leading change, as well as the short-term. These change-makers focus on how they can develop a sustainable resource engine to deliver superior performance relative to their mission, through innovation, motivation and collaboration.

To that end, great fundraising leadership goes beyond the fundraising department. It unites the entire organisation. It helps programme co-coordinators understand donor motivations, helps the finance team understand the likely returns of particular techniques, and helps everyone understand that the success of the organization in honoring its mission is dependent on all teams working together in a holistic and collaborative way — whether they have a direct role in generating income or not.

“Great fundraising starts and ends with the organisational purpose and objectives — so fundraising leaders must provide that organisational perspective, to lead both fundraisers and colleagues across the organization,” Jenkins says. “Good fundraising leaders transform their organisation’s success at fundraising; great fundraising leaders transform their organisation.”

Fundraising is the muscle behind the mission. To deliver the vital work we are so passionate about, we need enabling fundraising environments – where resources are aligned to create value and where the traditional fragmented silos we have been working under have been broken down. Great fundraising leadership will drive this change.

What is great fundraising leadership?
Great leadership is about breaking boundaries and asking difficult questions, about doing something different. It’s about emotional intelligence, effective communication, informed decision-making, calculated risk-taking. It’s being willing and able to stay in one place long enough to implement transformational change. It’s choosing the right people, and equipping them and inspiring them to take risks, to innovate, to grow and deliver. And it’s about making fundraising everybody’s baby.

But what are we doing to support, encourage and grow our leaders and change-makers? To give them the foundation they need to be able to innovate and inspire? Why do we assume that people will suddenly become fantastic leaders simply by receiving a promotion?

Leadership may be innate for a few, but for most people it needs to be nurtured and developed. Leadership skills need to be taught. And yet so few of our leaders, current or future, receive training in this area. We need to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth so that our teams have the skills they need to truly shine. Imagine what we could achieve if we did.

“There are a lot of people in our sector who recognise the importance of changing the quality of leadership and the need to bring on a generation that is bigger and better than we currently are,” Burnett says. “This should be encouraged. We should put a lot of effort into training the leaders of tomorrow.”

Jenkins agrees: “There is much more we can and should do. We need to inspire more current leaders to turn their efforts from good to great and share their experience with others, and we need to create more opportunities for fundraising leaders of the future to receive the support, training and guidance they need to realise their potential.”

Fundraising leaders who have had the courage to make transformational change, to break down barriers, to try innovative ways of working and who apply leading-edge thinking to their approaches should be applauded and supported. Furthermore, these examples should set the standard in our sector.

May we all strive to support each other — and especially our next generation of leaders — as we take the next steps, the right steps, to achieving the change we want and need to see in our sector and for the benefit of us all.


This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year!


Fundraising in the Middle East: How, Why and What

What image do you have of the Middle East? Watch the television or read the news and you are likely to see bombs and bullets, injured children and the shifting sands of multiple war zones.

But there is another place in the sophisticated cities of the Middle East where a well-educated, courteous, skilled, entrepreneurial population live. A population that is taking up the philanthropy that is a pillar of culture and religious belief in the region and that is modernising it. At IFC 2016, I will be joining Reem Abdelhamid of UNHCR in Saudi Arabia to discuss fundraising and philanthropy in the region.

Geography and Population

642px-Middle_eastThe ‘Middle East’ is a messy term, geographically, but means roughly the area around the Persian Gulf. It includes the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, and Yemen amongst a total of 17 countries.
The Arabic-speaking world is larger, with 22 countries that are members of the League of Arab States.


Members of the League of Arab States

This is an area of huge diversity – with a range of different ethnic groups, languages and religions, and substantial migration. The total population of the Arabic-speaking world is 392m people (5% of the world’s population), of whom 33% are under 15 years old – the ‘demographic bulge’ I refer to later in this article. For comparison, the population of the 28-state EU is 509m with just 15% under 15.


GDP per capita in the Arabic-speaking world is $6,400 (2015 figures at 2010 prices) but this hides huge variations, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on $21,312 and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on $39,544, somewhat more than the EU’s $34,861. Banking – which along with income is an important indicator for fundraisers – is becoming more common across the region with the percentage of adults with an account rising from 46% in 2011 to 69% in 2014 in the KSA, and from 60% to 83% in the UAE. (Source: World Development Indicators 2016)


We are familiar with some of the challenges that people in the region face; there are humanitarian crises in the region, some of which (the Palestinian crisis for example) have been going on all of our lifetimes.

But there is also a deeper generational shift going on across the region, and philanthropy is at its heart. This is the ‘legacy philanthropy’ referred to by Naila Farouky in an excellent paper for the Arab Foundations Forum (see references, below). Ms Farouky talks about passing on ‘the values of giving, of wealth and resource distribution over time’ and emphasises the importance of young people.

There is a ‘demographic bulge’ – a booming population of young people in the region – and at conferences on philanthropy in the region one can hear speakers from foundations and philanthropies focusing on youth. Work with young people is seen as a way of passing on values and also of providing for a generation that is often critical of the political masters in the region. Leading foundations in the region are focusing on youth; take a look for example at the Emirates Foundation, or at Dubai Cares, whose vision is ‘To break the cycle of poverty by ensuring all children have access to quality primary education’.

Philanthropy is big in this region, with the Bahrain ranked 13 and the UAE 14 in the World Giving Index 2015. The figures for individual gifts or grants by foundations can be really surprising. In 2014, for example, the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation gave AED 830m (€200m) in overseas aid, up from AED 780m in the previous year. The Emirates Red Crescent gave AED 860m (€210m) in the same year. (source; UAE Foreign Aid 2014’)

There is a growing number of foundations in the region, and they are networking. From just four members in 2007, the Arab Foundations Forum has now grown to 31 members. People of wealth and companies in the region appear to want to formalise and professionalise their giving.

How are people giving?

Philanthropy Age covers news and interviews from the region, and last year published a YouGov survey, the Arab Giving Survey. YouGov carried out research with a representative sample of 1,008 respondents in the GCC states (KSA, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.) Key findings from the survey include:

  • The average annual donation was $207 with just over half of respondents giving less than $150
  • On average, people gave to two charities, and 57% give to the same organisations year after year
  • 58% give spontaneously
  • Collection boxes are the most used means of giving, with 55% of respondents
  • 17% give by regular bank transfer
  • Two thirds of respondents give during Ramadan and Eid, and religious belief was the main motivation for giving amongst 45% of respondents
  • Top causes were third-world issues and overseas aid/disaster relief, but respondents also said that they preferred giving to local causes rather than INGOs

As an illustration of how attitudes towards transparency in philanthropy are shifting, the survey found that 55% agree that ‘giving [should] be more widely publicised, rather than discreet, in an effort to raise awareness of charities and needy causes.’

Impact, Impact, Impact

The Arab Giving Survey found that 93% of high-earning respondents describe results as being ‘extremely important’ in their decisions about giving. In other words, donors in the Gulf want impact. This is reflected in government policy; writing in the introduction to the UAE Foreign Aid 2014 report, HE Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, then Minister of International Co-operation and Development (now Minister of State for Tolerance) in the UAE government said;

‘While the amount of aid that we give is important, it is not as important as how we provide it. With this in mind, one of MICAD’s primary goals is to ensure that UAE foreign aid is channelled in the most impactful manner possible. In 2014, we launched various initiatives in a move to consolidate the impact of UAE foreign aid.’

Leading foundations across the region are also moving toward impact-based philanthropy, with Dubai Cares focusing on generating ‘immediate and long-term impact in the lives of children’ and putting its money into social impact investments. Atallah Kuttab – who is well known to IFC audiences as an authority on the region – and Paula Johnson say that ‘Arab philanthropic actors are structuring their giving through more institutionalized models [foundations, corporate giving] to achieve greater impact.’


Like any fundraising market, the Middle East presents a range of challenges for fundraisers. The successful organisations, such as UNHCR, have seen these challenges as opportunities; so, for example, UNHCR was the first international organisation to carry out an online Zakat donation programme in the region.

Key challenges include:

  • Diversity; this is a very diverse region in terms of people, money, culture and religion. One strategy, one structure, will not fit all
  • Data; there is still very little data on giving in the region, so it is difficult to compare markets accurately
  • Due Diligence; the lack of transparency amongst some foundations makes it difficult to carry out the due diligence work that your organisation may require
  • Infrastructure; some financial and government institutions in the region slow to adapt to philanthropy
  • Frontiers; a cross-over between philanthropy, state and ruling families is common across the region. Emirates Foundation, for example, is chaired by HH Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the son of the founder of UAE, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
  • Professionals; there is a small but growing number of professionals in fundraising in the region. Many organisations have to recruit outside fundraising, and train people in-house.
  • Compliance; the laws and policies on fundraising and NGOs vary across the region and will restrict what your organisation can do. In many parts of the region law and legal structures are ambiguous and this, say Kuttab and Johnson ‘is likely a disincentive to create philanthropic institutions.’
  • Rapid change; attitudes to philanthropy are changing rapidly, with some foundations now at the cutting edge of social enterprise/social investment/venture philanthropy. Be ready for some surprises!

A wealth of giving in the Middle East

The Middle East and the wider Arabic-speaking world is an exciting, changing, challenging area for fundraising. It is a place that requires patience and local knowledge to understand the various combinations of culture, religion, government and civil society that pattern the region. But it is also a place where non-profits can build strong, lasting local partnerships that build on the region’s millennial traditions of giving.


ifc2016This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year! 

Reem Abdelhamid of UNHCR in Saudi Arabia (@reemgazzaz) and Chris Carnie of Factary @chrisfactary are giving the Masterclass on Fundraising in the Middle East: How, Why and What? at IFC 2016. More information about the masterclass at the IFC 2016 can be found here.

The upcoming IFC will be challenging presenters and participants as never before

There will be hard questions asked about our sector and I wanted to take a crack at one of them: “If it’s true that one size does NOT fit all donors, and we have limited resources, are there ways for us to give donors a personalized, yet mass marketing, experience?

I believe there is an answer to this question and it is: journey mapping. I’ve seen this technique successfully answer the sticky question above and I’m presenting a masterclass on that topic with my colleague Brian Walsh.

Donor Journey Mapping is a very simple idea: a diagram that illustrates the steps your supporter(s) go through in engaging with your organization, whether it be an event, an online experience, ecommerce experience, or a service, or any combination. The more touch points you have, the more complicated — but necessary — such a map becomes.

Donor journey maps are a “cradle to grave” approach that looks at the lifetime arc of engagement. Since journeys frequently require many interactions with multiple departments over a lengthy period of time, you have an opportunity to:

  1. Develop a relationship between you and your donor
  2. Be more strategic about how to influence the ideal destination of each journey

With deeper relationships comes the increase in fundraising revenue and more predictable methods for achieving acquisition, retention, and conversion goals. If your organization wants to be best-practice, you will compile the journeys into one action plan or road map for implementation. At the end of your journey mapping and compilation, you will have the step-by-step road map to implementing your donor journeys with clear KPIs, milestones, and benchmarks to follow along the way.

Journey Mapping traditionally occurs in three phases (Discovery, Cross-functional Facilitation, Final Presentation). I’ve offered up a brief explanation of each step below:

  1. Discovery and Persona Development

You first take a step back and review key areas for your subsequent journey mapping. First, you’ll determine and get know internal stakeholders and their business objectives. Next, you’ll review your business and web analytics. Then you’ll work with your CRM data to understand your constituents. You’ll want to make sure there is a project champion(s) to determine which journeys to map, and you’ll build behavioural supporter personas to guide each journey. Behavioural Supporter Personas are data-driven, yet fictionalized representations of each ‘segment’ we are working to map. You’ll use this to understand what makes your people tick – and because the personae are products of in depth data review, they are incredibly valuable. When you work on a journey, you aren’t working on a ‘Major Donor’ Journey, you are working on ‘Victor’s Journey,’ for example.

2. Facilitated Session

The next part is probably the most fun. You get a cross-functional team together in room to physically map out the journey – with sticky notes, stickers, etc.

When you piece together your journeys, you want to use a process that captures EVERY element of an experience and I’ve stumbled upon a 16 step process that’s come from the Stanford Design School, companies like Oracle, and others.

The process allows you to develop a multi-layer chronology in order to truly understand each supporter’s experience. Once you’ve identify origins and ideal destinations for each supporter, you develop your map layers, which include:

  1. Supporter behaviours – what is our constituent doing at each step of their journey?
  2. Onstage – what items are they interacting with in this journey? Their inbox, their cell phone, their car, their gift officer, their volunteer coordinator…
  3. Backstage – what is happening behind the scenes concurrently – your database administrator, your call centre, your accounting team, your custodians etc…
  4. Empathy Maps – what is your supporter feeling at every step? These are just some of the layers we work to build with our cross-functional team.

From here, you use a process to identify which points in the current maps are prime points for introducing interventions to improve each narrative and ultimately lead a more delighted supporter to your ideal destination. Once you’ve identified the spots in your map where interventions are needed, you work together to innovate and add new tactics to the journey which will guide your supporter where they need to go.

3. The Action Plan

You then compile the journeys into one action plan for implementation. You will categorize and plot each innovation along an effort/impact matrix to define low hanging fruit and longer term strategies for each journey. Your cross-functional team will revisit your detailed notes from the first two phases of the engagement and provide yourselves with a roadmap for moving forward with automated, fully actionable, improved Donor Journeys.

You will outline clear KPIs, milestones, and benchmarks to follow along the way. The plan will provide your newly aligned and invigorated teams with a plan that has clear next steps to improve constituent experiences.

I truly believe journey mapping is something that we can build together in our sector and that’s why I started the journey club at www.donorjourney.com. Sign up and participate. It’s a place where over 700 charitable organizations from over 20 countries share and learn together.

I can’t forget to urge you to come to our masterclass at the IFC. There’s still a few spots.

Finally, I’ve got some late night listening on journey mapping. I’ve made a few recordings and if you just can’t get to sleep over the next few weeks, take a listen here:


ifc2016This blog post is part of the IFC series. 101fundraising is proud to be the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress for the 5th year! More information about Michael’s session at the IFC 2016 can be found here.

HELP NEEDED: Jailed in Dubai for Helping Children

Urgent help needed to persuade UK Prime Minister Theresa May to intervene on behalf of British-Australian fundraiser held in Dubai. Please sign our petition.

Fundraising for worthy causes should never be a crime.

scott-richardsScott Richards, a British-Australian volunteer fundraiser has been charged by Dubai authorities for “fundraising without permission”. His crime? Sharing a link on Facebook to promote a fundraising campaign for Afghan child refugees. In what world is wanting to raise money for needy children considered a prison-worthy offence? Dubai, apparently, and Scott now faces a potential sentence of up to a year.
The Guardian’s Amelia Hill writes:

“A man with joint British and Australian citizenship could spend a year in jail in Dubai after posting a link on his Facebook page to a US charity raising funds for blankets and socks for refugee children in Afghanistan. Scott Richards, an economic development adviser from Adelaide, was arrested on 28 July and held for 22 days at Al Muraqqabat police station before being charged on Friday under a new law banning “fundraising without permission”. The post he shared was a link to a campaign by the Zwan Family Charity to raise funds for new tarpaulins, blankets, warm clothes and socks and sleeping bags for children at the Chahari Qambar refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul. More than 100 children froze to death at the camp four years ago. Richards, who grew up in Australia, was living with his wife and two sons in Dubai when he fell foul of a strict new law prohibiting the operation of any charity not registered in the United Arab Emirates. The 42-year-old could now besentenced to a prison term of between two months and one year, and a fine of up to 100,000 dirhams (£20,000).”

SOFII has created a petition on Change.org calling on Theresa May to personally intervene to help Scott, which you can sign here.

You can also contribute to the fund set up by Scott’s family and friends to help fight his case. Please donate to SOFII by clicking on the “Keep SOFII running” button and e-mail joe@sofii.org so we can make sure your donation goes to the right place. Together, we can ensure Scott’s unfair charge gets dropped.

STOP PRESS: SOFII has just learned that, following pressure, Scott has now been released on conditional bail. He still faces a court case and potential sentence, so please keep up the pressure. Please sign the petition above. Thank you.

Why tests do not work for email fundraising

Josh2“How many supporters do I need to recruit to test whether email fundraising can work for my organisation?”

This is a question that I used to answer numerically. I would explain that the sample group needed to be large enough for the organisation to run split tests and to achieve results that had statistical significance. I was wrong. Here is why….

I have worked with dozens of charities looking to diversify their income streams, test new channels and determine where they should invest their fundraising budgets. They run tests with agencies, on different platforms, using multiple methods and communication styles. I have encouraged charities to try (or retry) email fundraising as I have seen the impressive results that can be achieved through a strong email programme.

Some charities are seeing positive results from email; the likes of PETA, Charity:Water and Dignity in Dying come to mind. Others have run small but statistically significant tests and decided email is not a channel that works for their charity or their target audience. I used to accept that both were right and that it was simply a channel that did not work for everyone. Now I believe that many charities have been analysing the wrong data when determining whether it works for them or not and have dismissed email too soon.

Measuring the ROI of your first test or calculating lifetime value based on your first 5-10 emails does not tell you whether the channel works for your organisation. Instead it tells you how well the charity knows how to communicate via this channel, how effective your donation page is and whether the charity responded to the data obtained from split tests. Most importantly, it gives you baseline data such as email open rates, click through rates and conversion rates so that you know where to focus your efforts in terms of improvement and optimisation.

The key to email fundraising is regularly reviewing how your supporters respond and making small, incremental changes that lead you to achieving your desired result; an action-taking group of supporters.

Sir Bradley Wiggins 1This method is similar to the method applied by Dave Brailsford when he was hired to ensure that a British cyclist won the Tour de France for the first time. It took him three years to realise this goal and in 2012 Sir Bradley Wiggins became Great Britain’s first Tour de France winner.

Brailsford tested every element that could have an impact on Sir Bradley’s performance and “optimised” everything he could control. He discovered what pillow would support better sleep, which massage gel was the most effective and he made sure that his cyclists always washed their hands to avoid getting sick. Brailsford understood that a 1% increase in performance applied across multiple areas would be the key to success.

With email fundraising there is so much that can be optimised and therefore so much to test. You need to understand how frequently you should communicate, how often you should ask for donations, what other parts of your charity you need to expose to your supporters, how long your emails should be, who they should come from. The list goes on.

Many fundraising teams, especially in larger charities, have lost the ability to think like this. They have become project managers who are excellent at managing agency relationships and analysing ROI. That is why I am asked questions such as, “How many supporters do I need to recruit to test whether email fundraising can work for my organisation?”

Today’s fundraiser has been preceded by decades of failures, learning and optimisation of methods such as direct mail, telemarketing and door to door fundraising. Others before them have done the hard slog and research that we all benefit from. That is why traditional channels “work”.

This is not yet the case for “digital” fundraising and why email fundraising can get bad press. I have heard very senior, well-respected fundraisers claim that, “email fundraising doesn’t work”. I challenge this myth and instead suggest that through investing resource into testing and optimisation it is likely that you can make email fundraising work for your organisation.

Very few organisations will find new channels by running small tests that use short-term ROI as the central measure of success unless you happen to have a strong email programme in place at the start of your test.

I challenge you, next time you try a new channel, try it for at least six months, test everything and remember Dave Brailsford along your journey.

Simply the Best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q2 2016)

It’s half time. And I’m not talking about the European Football Championships. We’ve just concluded our second quarter.

Again we have 10 gems for you. And Q2 shows us how international our crowdblog is with posts from the USA, Norway, Australia (2x), Canada (2x), UK (3x) and The Netherlands. Congrats to Karen for the #1 spot!

Please read them and share this post in your social media.

(1) Three Powerful Major Gift Questions You Might Not Be Asking – Karen Osborne
(2) How to DIY a digital strategy that actually works – Beate Sørum
(3) Fundraising’s biggest smokescreen – Jonathon Grapsas
(4) Rebecca’s first 47 days – Rebecca Davies
(5) British Fundraising is in a Crisis – of Courage – Sean Triner
(6) The acceptable face of fundraising targets – Ken Burnett
(7) Don’t let 1,835 cats KILL Your Fundraising – Rory Green
(8) Thanking – my goodness it really works – Joe Sutton
(9) Invest. Experience. Loyalty. Retention. Income. Repeat. – Reinier Spruit
(10) A Brief History of Fundraising – Giles Pegram

You are more than welcome to re-publish these blog posts elsewhere. If you do, please add that it “has been published prior on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising” with a link to our crowdblog. We’d appreciate it if you inform us. Thanks!

[Source: Google Analytics 15 March – 30 June 2016. Questions? E-mail us.]

“Because it works” is not a good enough answer. Here’s why.

success-and-failure-signWhat is success in fundraising? And what is failure? That might seem a ridiculously simple and binary question with a ridiculously simple and binary answer: it’s what works, and what does not.

And yet it isn’t that simple, is it? It all depends on what you’re measuring. Where you start. What your target is and what it might take to reach it. How you compare with others.

The trauma that’s hit fundraising in the UK over the last year has raised a lot more questions, many of which don’t have easy answers but still have a bearing on what success looks like. If you aren’t from the UK, don’t be complacent. This is something where we’re just ahead of you, which could easily jump borders. Our Brexit won’t protect you.

“What works”, taken out the immediate metrics of response rates, average gifts, net income and ROIs, now has to answer “for whom”? Because it’s clear that a lot of fundraising activity has got a lot of people rather disenchanted with charities, and once they realised they weren’t alone in feeling that, they’ve been vocal about it.

The media has been awash with stories confirming their negative experiences of excessive mail, intrusive phone calls, and irritating face-to-face fundraising. Trust has fallen quite dramatically. Just last week, the UK Charity Commission issued a report showing trust in charities has fallen 15%, from a score of 6.7 out of 10 in 2014, to 5.7 out of 10 this year.

Fundraising isn’t working for donors, or the wider public. Ah, but we’re still getting good results, comes the reply. Who cares? It’s working for beneficiaries, for whom we raise the money, isn’t it? But at what cost, I’d ask? Do the ends justify the means? Is there longer-term and wider damage? It’s hard to say, because we enter territory without too many metrics (though initiatives like the Commission on the Donor Experience are working on that). We enter questions around ethics and values, and have to think about public perception and the risk of brand damage. We have to use judgement, as well as raw evidence. I’ve written here before on this question as it relates to the representation of those we serve. Some speculative wishful thinking is in order until we know more about the full impact we’re having.

There’s a commercial example in the UK right now. Tesco, the largest supermarket in the UK, has been selling a lot of its fresh food – meat, fruit and vegetables – under fictional farm brands. Essentially, these take advantage of the whole ‘buy local’ idea, with people imagining they get better quality and support local farmers at the same time, Even though much of the produce comes from as far and wide around the world as it ever did. Tesco says it works, that it’s making a difference to their bottom line. But is that ok, when it’s pretending to be something it’s not? Doesn’t that just eat further away at credibility, authenticity, and trust?

Our fundraising faces similar challenges. What’s really got the UK fundraising sector thinking is the question of the cumulative impact of fundraising on individuals. As single charities, we all make our own rational decisions. Everything ‘works’ in our own little world of metrics. We look after ‘our’ supporters with a view on how often it might be reasonable to contact them. But we forget that generous people support a lot of charities, and that adds up to a lot of contact.

What we’re dealing here is an example of ‘the tragedy of the commons – that economic theory that explains how the rational decision-making of everyone in a community, can lead to the destruction of the common resource. (For example, pastoralists all increasing their herds of goats, leading to overgrazing of fragile land, and ecological disaster). Sixteen years ago, the UK fundraising sector set up a regulatory body to manage face to face fundraising, managing and allocating street sites in conjunction with local authorities, specifically to avoid a gold rush that would lead to the end for everyone. It really hasn’t done a bad job.

And now we are faced with whether we have been doing this with everything else. Is our fundraising activity sustainable? Is it ‘working’ for the sector at large? Is it working for our future, in terms of public trust, supporter relationships, and longer-term income?

Copy Copy CopyAll of this provoked a great debate recently about innovation and best practice: Joe Jenkins asked whether our sector’s culture of sharing and copying was contributing to the homogenisation of fundraising, a reduction to the lowest common denominator. Claire Axelrad responded, arguing that sharing and copying spread best practice that raised more money. A cry of “it works”? Maybe. I’ve complained on SOFII (“it won’t work here”) about fundraisers’ reluctance to learn and copy. Copying is the greatest form of flattery, and the quickest way to innovation success (as laid out in Mark Earl’s fun book, “Copy, Copy, Copy”, but the trick of course, is to adapt what you see and learn to work for you, and do it differently, as Derek Humphries nicely summed up (“Don’t cut and paste”). I think we’d all agree with that.

Joe’s is an important challenge, to think about how we forge new paths to keep things fresh and not destroy our ‘commons’ before their time. Claire’s is an important argument too. Not all charities have the resources to test and innovate, and rely on watching those that do, and copying what they hear is best practice. “What works”. It’s all part of our fundraising ecology.

Oxfam water pack outerWhich reminds me of my biggest direct mail failure, which I’m happy to share. At Oxfam we had a very successful direct mail pack for new supporter recruitment. It had been working for ten years, beating every new idea we tested against it. Determined to crack it, we put our agency on the case, with two creative teams and a whirl through their innovation hothouse. We deconstructed all we knew made a difference to results – engagement devices that were relevant to the brand story, and tactile, the latest on format design. We spent more time on it than on any other creative development. Whatever. God knows how we ended up with this. It bombed, as common sense should have told us it would. (We did beat that pack in the end).

Does my challenge that “because it works’ is no longer a good enough answer, change the importance of testing, learning and improving? No, of course not. It’s just that the question “what works?” has got a whole lot bigger, and we’ve all got to pay attention to that. It’s not just about the numbers. Public trust is our lifeblood, more than the money, for without it, the money won’t follow. Public trust is our common good, and that’s what we all have to look after. Including you.

As the Lorax said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.

The Donosaur’s Lament

We used to run into each other at fundraising conferences and events, but it had been a while since we had met. When I called her and suggested catching up over lunch, I was hoping for an enthusiastic response … but it took three calls to convince her to get out of the office. “There’s too much going on / the world’s a different place / I feel like all my trusted skills / are falling out of grace”, she sighed on the phone, “I’ll tell you all about it / but now I have to run / not sure where to or why / but it’s what must be done”.

donosaurShe looked very, very tired. We ate in relative silence, and as we were waiting for our coffee, she seemed ready to share what was burdening her, so I suggested “I wish you would confide in me / what made you so distraught / perhaps tell me what is both’ring you / and share your darkest thought”.

She sighed. “I’ve spent my lifetime raising funds / for causes large and small / I mailed, I called, I asked and got / and thought I knew it all”, she said, clenching her napkin. “I chose this job, and gladly so / to give a better life / to hungry, poor, deprived and sick / of needs the world was rife,” and I swear I could see tears starting to form in her eyes. “I had a burning mission / to which the board agreed / we shared this great ambition / so pure and free of greed.” She sipped her coffee, as if she were gathering strength, and went on. “But younger folk are telling me / the way I work is wrong / and though I argue violently / their arguments are strong. They talk about the journey / our donors undertake / and how we should engage with them / and thus them donors make,” she spat, contempt clear in her voice. “They prove to me with numbers / that what they say is right / that it is time we change our ways / and I should see the light”.

“Ah,” I said, “but you are not alone / in feeling such frustration / when you are facing change / there’s cause for agitation,” hoping that a expression of empathy would make her feel better. It didn’t, and she continued ferociously, causing sideways glances from other tables. “Change, you say, but whence and why / when every fiber of my soul / is certain that it’s all a lie / and that it will destroy us whole!” She put down her coffee forcefully. “It’s always been our mission / to help whose needs are worst / so how can someone justify / putting a donor first? Should we not look to people / who understand the need / to contribute financially / and help us to succeed ?”

This conversation was going to need a lot more coffee. “My dear,” I said, “you must calm down / I understand your pain,” while signalling the waiter, “let’s have another cup / and give your grief free rein”. This was not the first fundraiser lament I had heard, so I had a fair idea of what was coming. We’re always talking about the next fabulous innovation in fundraising technology, and sometimes forget change is hard on most people — even fundraisers. Many will retweet a quote on the future of fundraising, but few will share how hard it feels to adapt.

She did not wait for coffee. “I can’t begin to count / the letters that I sent / to donors so they understand / the way their gift was spent. The quarterly reports / that fill my desk in stacks / combine the finest prose / with budgetary facts” and looked me straight in the eyes. “I think I know my job by now / I’ve proven it enough / and I am getting sick of all / this empty mark’ting fluff! This storytelling nonsense / and content marketing / communities that we should build / and segment targeting. Instead of simply listening / they measure clicks and flows / and watch with rapt attention / as time spent onsite grows. Their charts are bright and colourful / their tools like Star Trek look / and I feel like an idiot / reading Adrian’s latest book …”

I’m sure you’ve all heard similar stories, albeit not in rhyme. It may even be ThinkstockPhotos-465080709-e1435007860941how you feel in your job today. Well, you’re not alone. People with years of experience, decades of dedication to their cause, are feeling overwhelmed by the new digital developments. Not simply because it’s change, but because it disrupts more than just tools and processes. It expects us to change our intent and purpose of everything we do. And like most disruptive hangs, it feels like it happened overnight. Suddenly, we’re all donosaurs.

We’re all donosaurs

donosaur is a person who intellectually agrees with new approaches to fundraising, but finds it hard to change their daily routine. Often, they feel that the new approach feels ‘wrong’ in some way, but are lost for objective reasons not to follow their ratio. So they try to be donor centric, and tell compelling stories, nod when campaign results are presented suggesting a more personalised donor experience, and gradually feel less and less at home in their jobs and environments. But they don’t speak up, so management thinks everyone’s on board. Enter demotivation, burnout, staff attrition, poor donor service etcetera.

So it’s (once again) management’s problem? Perhaps it is. The challenge for nonprofit managers is to move their entire organisation into the digital era, instead of just a happy few. And I’m not only talking about staff and volunteers, but about the donosaurs in the management team and on the board. But we must embrace our inner donosaur and share our concerns with them. If you’re struggling to integrate what you’ve ben doing before and the new digital stuff, speak up. Go to a seminar, talk to your peers. Organize donosaur support groups, declare an office-wide ‘Donosaur Development Day’ spent only on learning and trying out new stuff. And once in a while, have lunch with a fellow donosaur and just bitch.

You sent me a mail pack. A mail pack… I never get those.

Although, come to think of it, I had one from you before once, and it was bland and unconvincing. All concept and no substance. Very disappointing.

But this one almost persuaded me to give.

It had me completely for a while, but then your words seemed to lose their conviction when you got to the ask.

It started so passionately that I really believed you were the charity that would do something about this really big problem I care so much about. But it was all undone by the vagaries – the lack of specifics about what you would do. I began to feel I’d just read some ad man’s copy and almost fallen for it.

On reflection, I wondered whether the passion I heard in the words was your anger and frustration at the problem and that was absolutely authentic. It was just when you had to make an unrestricted ask that authenticity seemed to disappear. Was that your discomfort I felt? Did it seem disingenuous to have to do that after so much heartfelt focus on a single issue?

But you almost had me.

direct-mailIn all honesty, I’m not really a mail pack person. So much so, that I don’t really get any. If I give to charity, it’s always online or into a collection tin, or bucket (with the exception of that one time I got unusually drunk at a charity auction and bid for a caravan holiday that I never went on… oh, how elated I was to win… before I realised what I’d actually done).

But it’s different when you hear from a cause you hold dear, isn’t it? Almost welcome.

I realised it was because I’d signed one of your petitions – probably several, come to think of it. Then I wondered why you hadn’t sent me something before.

Then came the phone call. I was on the train. I’d seen some of your posts on Facebook in the interim – I always look out for them – and I’d decided I wanted to set up a Direct Debit. But I didn’t want to give my bank, name and address details over the phone on a packed commuter train. So you said you’d call back at a pre-arranged time the next day, when I’d be free to talk.

But the next call was not the next day at the time we’d agreed and, when you called, a few days’ later, it was the middle of the working day, I was super-busy at work and couldn’t take time out to speak.

So we agreed that you’d call back the day after that. But the call never came.

You so almost had me.

But I probably fell outside the cut off of your telemarketing campaign in the end.

Then another few days and Facebook posts, and I thought, ‘I’ll just donate online’. That’s what I usually do, after all.

After about ten failed attempts, and a form that wouldn’t load properly on my phone, in two different browsers, I gave up. I really did try, too – for a long time. Far longer than I would for anyone or anything else.

I started thinking it just wasn’t meant to be.

I thought about calling you, but there’s never enough time…

Weeks went by. I carried on seeing your posts on Facebook. I ‘took some campaigning actions’, as we say in these circles, and life carried on as normal.

But then, a few days’ ago, my phone rang and, when I picked it up, it was you again. I must have been the easiest call of the day – I told you I was pleased you’d called back and that I wanted to set up a Direct Debit, before you even got to that part of your script. I also told you about your problem donation process – and I hope someone will fix that, because phone calls are so expensive.

Then a funny thing happened: You said, ‘thank you for becoming a supporter’, and I felt an enormous wave of emotion. It really took me by surprise. And it felt wonderful.

We had a really nice conversation. I said I was quite happy to continue receiving emails, but please no phone calls or letters – really I get everything I need from Facebook.

I was so glad that you remembered to call back.

And you’ve reminded me of a few valuable lessons:

  1.  The importance of multichannel – more than ever
  2. Persistence is key – just because someone isn’t ready to donate now, it doesn’t mean they never will be
  3. If you say you’re going to do something, you’d better follow up on it
  4. Make sure your donation process hasn’t developed a bug since a big software update – you can’t just build it, test it and forget about it
  5. Go back to your database and see who is lingering on there that might just be ready to give now, or start giving again – because I’d been on there for at least a couple of years, maybe more, without being contacted
  6. Content that you share via social media is donor acquisition activity – not just ‘comms’ – even if you’re not thinking of it that way or the people reading it don’t perceive it that way. In fact, if they don’t perceive it that way, that’s a good thing – what you create and share should add value, not be constantly badgering people
  7. Direct mail can still cut through for ‘digital donors’ (digital giving is my preference, if it works) – particularly for people that don’t get much of it. Then it can even be a novelty (in the positive sense)
  8. Don’t lose your conviction, or change your tone, when you make your unrestricted ask. Sounds obvious, but that lets many a campaign down
  9. Giving to help change something you want to be fixed in the world can feel great. This experience made me feel that for myself, in a way I haven’t felt for some time, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
  10. Watch your alcohol intake carefully if you’re at a charity auction. More so than usual.

#HappyBirthdayYourMajesty #Orlando


Selfie with the Queen!

On Sunday, Katharine (comms manager) and I represented Save the Children Canada at the Patron’s Lunch. The largest-ever street party on The Mall, The Royal Family made philanthropy and patronage a centrepiece of The Queen’s 90th birthday festivities.

It’s nearly always the fundraisers who throw the party, but at the Patron’s Lunch, we were the guests. We were the invited, the ones who RSVPd and were entertained, thanked and fed, along with10,000 other charity workers from the 600 organisations The Queen gives her name to.

Amid jugs of Pimm’s, the carnival parade, and a Gruffalo dancing to Britpop, we mingled: ex-servicemen, councillors, trustees, charity CEOs, and fundraisers. Wills, Kate, Anne, Andrew, Edward, and Sophie.

ghostsLong may she rain, we were 10,000 ghosts in Royal Ponchos fluttering little union jacks. Off with cynicism’s head! This was a rare day and one to embrace – there was nowhere to go but deeper towards joy. Buckingham Palace’s rooftop snipers were like cake toppers. Just a happy couple.

Katharine had lined up some national media, which was going to give us valuable exposure in Canada. Then, CBC to CTV, the interviews were cancelled. Breaking news. A man had killed over 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Assault rifles and handguns.

Charities exist to do dark work, or bring light to a dark world. At Save the Children, our work is to stem the violence, persecution, and exploitation of children. But we mourn and rage at any violence committed against anyone.

On Sunday, there were two dramatic events: a Royal picnic on a scale unlikely to be repeated, and a massacre on a scale we desperately hope won’t be. As around the world, the reaction at the Patron’s Lunch was shock, but our impulse was also to celebrate on. We celebrated a remarkable woman’s 90th birthday, her service, our service, the charitable sector, our donors’ generosity, and the impact our 600 charities have had. It was not self-congratulatory. It was survival.

rainbowIt was a complicated day for me: one minute I was FaceTiming my mother from the Mall so she could be part of it all, and in an instant, thinking how I could explain to my four-year-old why some people hate those who love. This cuts me to the core.

I’m angry. I’m so angry that on a day of two extremes, taking and hating won as the story. Not the other, about giving and loving.

How answering ‘Why’ and ‘What’ could change your fundraising

a.k.a. how much money would you raise if you knew anything meaningful about ‘your’ donors?

Do you recognize her?

She’s been on your house file for three and a half years now. Each month she gives you the £3 you originally asked her for. She’s comfortably off, supports many other causes and could easily afford to give you more.

But she never has (despite many, many, many letters, emails, texts, and phone calls, along with a ton of ‘engaging’ content on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook etc.)

what-if-and-why-notWhat’s missing in your ‘relationship’ with her?

You know exactly how old she is, where she lives, the channel she was recruited on. And of course you know how she gives and how much.

But do you know why she gives?

There are any number of possible answers. Maybe she:

  • Has a direct personal connection?
  • Maybe she has an indirect connection?
  • Has no connection whatsoever, but feels you do good work?
  • Wants to pay it forward?
  • Wants to assuage guilt?
  • Is benevolent?
  • Wants to feel the ‘warm glow’ of giving?
  • Just never got around to cancelling (apathy and loyalty look identical on your CRM!)

Can you accurately say which of the above are true for her?

Let’s say you’re a health charity. Does she have a connection to the disease you’re trying to treat/prevent/cure? Do the ’emotional’ stories you tell help her connect to something of which she has no experience? Or do they deeply upset her, bringing up traumatic memories she wishes she could forget?

Or, let’s say you’re a national wildlife charity operating nature reserves. Does she want to take her children and foster in them a love of the outdoors? Does she appreciate the magazines etc. you produce for kids? Or does she use your reserves as quiet time for herself, and deeply resent your damaging the environment sending her magazines she puts straight in the recycling bin?

Or, let’s say you’re an international development charity. Does she wish she could do more; that she could feel useful and somehow connected? Or does she wish you’d stop diluting her donation by sending her a ton of appeals and information she’s never going to have time to read?

lady readingOr [insert your cause here]?

The only reason for not knowing why she gives is not caring enough to find out.

But even if we knew why she gave we still wouldn’t know what, of all the ‘experiences’ you create for her, matter to her.

By the most lenient definition our sector sends donors an awful lot of ‘stuff’. Step outside your silo for a minute and think about how much content you, brand, comms, donor/member services etc. is sending her, in as many communication channels as you have contacts for her.

It’s all creating an impression on her. It can’t all matter to her. And of the things that do matter, they can’t all matter equally. Yet we waste an enormous amount of time, effort and money producing and sending them to her anyway.

So, look at your donor again. Before you spend all that time, effort and money trying to ‘engage’ her, can you say, for certain, how much of her lifetime value is driven by:

  • The magazine; does she read it or bin it?
  • Core messages; is she moved/motivated by messages A and B, or C and D?
  • The last upgrade campaign (regardless of channel)? Like most people she didn’t respond. But did exposure to it help or harm the way she thinks and feels about you?
  • As above, but this time for requests to volunteer, campaign etc.?
  • The services or activities you offer?

Again the only honest answer a fundraiser can give is an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders.

Inability to understand why she gives, and what builds on that, is the root cause of our inability to dent mission.

So what can we do?

Donor engagementWe all know surveys tell us what people say they’ll do, but rarely tally with what they’ll actually do.

And we all know transactional data on who gave, when and how tells us absolutely nothing about why they gave (or ever would again).

Only by combining the two can you get the answers to who, what and why. Only then can we make any meaningful change in the world.

PS for fundraisers in the UK there’s a bitter irony to having not serviced their donors fundraising preference; the imminent, and potentially catastrophic, fundraising preference service.


Seeing donors as partners: will you shift your culture?

In all the recent media stories covering what’s wrong with charity fundraising, one thing that’s not getting enough airtime is what an amazing and life-enhancing experience giving can be. This gives us a huge opportunity – but may well require quite a shift in how we work.

From what I see, giving helps us to express our values and beliefs, and to achieve some good out of bad. Helps us to stop someone else suffering the same terrible disease we have seen a loved one go through. Look after people in our communities. Fight for the human rights we can’t imagine not having.

I’m always amazed by the profound things donors express when they give. Heartfelt empathy with a vulnerable teenager. Support to a young girl who has turned her life around from victim to educator. Personal stories shared of what WWII veterans mean to them.

People reach inside, to their most personal experiences, and share them openly.

This is stuff they really care about. Which is why it’s so important that we treat them right.

imagesGiving in the age of customer service

We all know what good customer service looks like – and we expect it from the brands we really value. And good supporter service for charities is equally if not more important – it means making the experience of giving feel efficient, effective, and considerate for donors.

Finding out what sort of communications people want, then living up to it.

This isn’t easy to deliver – and may mean you making some hard decisions – but if your charity gets it right, people will be more likely to enjoy the experience, more inclined to trust your charity, and more likely to stay.

Relationship fundraising is more than this

But the unique chance for charities is to talk to people with shared values, in the right language, about things that matter to you both. To show people you respect opportunities they can take, sharing stories and bringing them as close as possible to the work you deliver.

For those who want it, to offer a relationship which becomes a long-term, win-win situation, that grows over time, involving one sort of support, or many.

If you can make that connection and get it right, people will find a comfortable home for their own passion in your organisation. They will absorb your charity into their life, and live out their own long-term commitment to a cause, perhaps eventually leave you a legacy. And gain considerable reward and pleasure as they do so.

So the opportunity, when you do both, is to treat your donors as your partners. And to raise more money, over the long term, as a result.

And this is where we run into problems

Of course this is not straightforward. How do you square the need to set targets and measure performance on an annual basis, with the much longer-term business of encouraging lifelong support?

How do we get beyond seeing our donors as our warm database, whose job it is to collectively give the money we need to raise each year?

Respecting donors as individuals means putting long-term benefit above short-term gain. And that’s not easy.

It involves investing and measuring results across longer time periods, much longer than a single financial year – and having the courage and faith to believe that embedding this thinking in your charity will yield much greater long-term value.

Leading from the top to get it right

This is why it seems to me that the values, policy and practices of fundraising have to be set at board level – led from the top and embraced by everyone. So that we see our donors as our partners – the enablers – and set them alongside our beneficiaries – the people or work they want to make happen.

It’s a tall order.

A change worth making

But now is the critical time to focus on the opportunity: the rewards that supporting charities can bring. The positive role that charities can play in people’s lives.

The chance to build lifetime support by engaging with the right people in the right way, over a long time period.

And it all starts by putting donors as partners at the heart of your charity.

Fundraising's biggest smokescreen

Warning: this post may offend some readers.

When was the last time you read a blog that waxed lyrical about retention and how if you really look after your donors it’ll be the equivalent of fundraising and donor nirvana?

Probably earlier today.

How often in the last 12 months has your board and perhaps your boss banged on about how your organisation has a “big strategic focus” on providing the very best donor care in the sector?

I suspect quite a lot.

Throw in a plethora of articles, conference rants (sorry, presentations), and the odd debate in the pub and it’s fair to say your fundraising brain is awash with retention overload. <Insert here any other retention or donor care synonym that’s trending today>

So what’s the problem here?

Nothing, if you plan to make small improvements to your program.

Focusing primarily on retaining supporters is a smokescreen for what really drives long-term growth: the quality of supporters you’re recruiting in the first place.

A case in point

See the table below.

This organisation had been undertaking face-to-face recruitment, but like most other charities hadn’t been looking after their supporters particularly well.

They were treating their F2F (younger) donors like direct mail (older) donors. Mail packs, newsletters, etc.

So a test was set up to look at the improvement generated by treating them as younger, transient, mobile confident supporters. The test contained lots of really good, rich content (mostly video) shared via SMS and email early on to reinforce why they supported. We were in touch at least weekly.

The control was far less frequent, just 2 touch-points in the first three months, both delivered via the post.


GIGOThe result is clear cut (statistically significant). The test group out performed the control: donors were much more likely to stay on board by the 3-month point post sign up if they were provided updates and love via email and SMS (and done much more frequently).

Doesn’t this fly in the face of a retention smokescreen?

Not really.

This organisation stopped recruiting on the street within a year.

Not because their approach to retention wasn’t proven, it was.

Because it wasn’t enough to offset the poor quality of recruits coming in the door in the first place. Too many donors under 30 years of age giving at levels they can’t afford, not enough in the latter stages of life who can afford to give.

Yes, the focus on retention improved the overall result, but not enough. It simply wasn’t making them money.

Hindsight provides a much clearer view of what would have been better to invest more time in. Specifically:

  • better understanding their data as to who was being recruited (and influence this with their agency and fundraising teams on the street)
  • managing fundraiser performance on a more granular level (not rewarding success based on sign ups but long term retention)
  • implementing a scale of payment for donors that remunerated the agency based on quality, not volume in isolation
  • focusing on the retention that really matters: keeping their street fundraisers for as long as possible

In addition to the above we’ve run several other tests around the value of looking after supporters. Both in a controlled (head-to-head) and a less controlled environment (before-after scenario).

In most instances there is no doubt that a focus on great donor experiences wins. Sometimes clearly, often by very little. One recent example pitted two very different approaches head to head.

Lots of love, beautiful and inspiring content, full of surprise and delight. Versus nothing. That’s right, nothing. Other than an annual tax receipt.

The difference? Very little, around a 1% reduction in attrition in the first year (not a brilliant outcome for 18 months worth of work on this project).

The takeaway here is that the organisation was absolutely brilliant at the items listed above. They understood how their recruitment was working, what the keys driver of attrition were (age, gift level, recruitment agency, etc), had their backend systems working a treat. They really knew the sweet spots.

All far more likely to positively impact their net return than a profoundly different supporter experience.

Because they recruited the right people and spent more time on the things that mattered most. Pleasingly their retention of street recruited supporters is one of the very best in the country.

The lovely retention program helped, but the balance of effort was out of whack.

So what does all of this mean?

It’s fashionable to talk about retention.

It also feels like a quick fix. As I hope I’ve highlighted above that’s usually not the case.

But conscious of not simply focusing on what not to do, here are some suggestions on how to improve both the recruitment (most important) and retention aspects of your program.


  • Don’t believe all of the hype. Channel and technique bashing is easy. “Premium mail” doesn’t work. “Face to face” is done.

Most of this is BS.

The premium one is easy to kill off. In fact earlier today we analysed some data from a clients acquisition program that proved that a test 3 years ago of premium versus non premium mailings not only the worth of premiums in the initial test (2.5 times the response), but over 3 years had delivered a 47% greater net contribution.

  • Live and breathe your data. As explained earlier, understand what drives retention and long-term value – and most importantly, know how to use those insights. You can’t simply stop recruiting younger people on the street, but you can influence the value you sign them up for. 
  • Manage expectations (including your own). Do you know what you’re in for? Yes, street recruits re harder to keep. Signing up regular givers via an acquisition mailing generates small numbers but can be worth it. Monthly donors signed up via SMS prospecting give at low values.

 Know this in advance and it helps your forecasting, your sanity, and your relationship with your boss and your board.


  • Please revisit the previous 1,000 words above on recruitment. Fix that and your fix the retention problems.
  • Understand really quickly what a supporter’s initial experience was like and whether they intend to stick around. Respond quickly (and appropriately) if it was poor in an effort to keep them. 
  • Bust myths. We’ve recently tried and proved that asking in a thank you letter (post first gift) does work. It generates more multi donors much quicker, and generates more net than not asking, including the affect on subsequent appeals.

And of course, be really, really nice to those wonderful supporters who have shared their love. And their generosity.

Surprise the hell out of them. Take them on a roller-coaster ride, flooded with tears and contentment in equal measure. Invite them to stuff. Send them personalised videos from your CEO. Never forget how much donors value handwriting. Close the loop regularly so they are assured their $50 changed someone’s life.

But always remember how important it is to find the right people to support you.

Simply the Best: Top 10 blog posts! (Q1 2016)

Dear fundraising friends, the first quarter is gone already. What a first 3 months it has been.

We started the year with the very sad news that Tony Elischer passed away. In this fast moving world we want to share our thoughts one more time: It takes a crowd of us to do what Tony Elischer did

Then in February there was a small celebration: 101 turned 5 years old!

And in between we had fantastic blog posts from the USA, UK and Canada. But this quarter the #1 post comes from The Netherlands!

Our advice: Read them all and please spread among your own fundraising friends.

(1) An example of greatness in donor appreciation and recognition – Reinier Spruit
(2) I spy 5 fundraising trends in 2016 – Tom Ahern
(3) When fundraising hurts: Vicarious Trauma, Burnout, and Compassion Fatigue – Rebecca Davies
(4) Choose relationship fundraising. Or not. – Adrian Sargeant
(5) The Joy of Giving – Giles Pegram
(6) Why Digital Skills are Important to Fundraisers – Paul C. Nazareth
(7) Exceeding Supporter Expectations with a WOW! – Matthew Sherrington
(8) The People who made relationship fundraising work – Derek Humpries
(9) I can’t get to (remuneration based on donor) satisfaction – Adrian Sargeant
(10) The data that re-defines ‘good’ fundraising – Charlie Hulme

Do you also want to be part of our 101 family? Be inscribed in our 101 Hall of Fame? Please consider making a donation.

You are more than welcome to re-publish these blog posts elsewhere. If you do, please add that it “has been published prior on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising” with a link to our crowdblog. We’d appreciate it if you inform us. Thanks!

[Source: Google Analytics 1 January – 31 March 2016. Questions? E-mail us.]

Don’t let 1,835 Cats KILL Your Fundraising

aoshima-cat-island-japanEvery year, my favourite charity saves 1,835 cats in Vancouver.

But they don’t talk to me about that. They tell me about one cat at a time. Why? Because they understand what makes a great thank you letter…

The thank you letter is an often neglected piece of donor communication. It sits, stale and unattended getting sent to hundreds or thousands of donors.

Maybe this is because there is a huge disconnect between how fundraisers are measured and evaluated (money in the door by fiscal year end) and how donors evaluate us (the communications they receive and how they feel when they get them).

It’s not shocking that items like thank you letters are viewed as an afterthought – they don’t bring in money and move the bottom line, so why spend time making them amazing?

To test where we are at with thank you letters, I created a quiz to put our generic thank you letters to the test. The premise was simple: get out your organization’s generic thank you letter and answer a few questions about it.

I meant it to be a fun and interactive way to get fundraisers thinking about how they could improve their thank you letters – NOT an academic survey for data, but as of today over 900 fundraisers have taken it and I find the results quite interesting. The results can be found below – but I want to point out one area where we are failing: Only 47% of charities mention specifically how the gift will be used.

Overwhelmingly fundraisers reported that their thank you letters did not contain any specifics about how the gift will be used.

That’s a big problem.

Why? Because “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic” (Stalin) – and “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” (Mother Theresa). The one thing Stalin and Mother Theresa can agree on: getting specific is better than general and broad.

To put it in a fundraising context, here’s a little wisdom from Jeff Brook’s book: How to Turn Your Words Into Money:

“Make your message about people, not statistics and facts. Numbers numb. Stories and pictures of people stir donors to action… Your donors likely feel powerless to put an end to poverty or injustice. But they can easily imagine reaching out to one person and making a difference.. The other crucial thing about the problem in your story is you must show it to be solvable. By the donor.”

A powerful story about one person heled by your charity (and your DONOR) can do more than your mission statement or values.

Here are two charities doing this so well.

FionaNSPCCNSPCC: Fiona’s Story: “When I was 9, my mum met a new man. At first I really liked him and looked up to him but things started to change shortly after he moved in with us. My mum and I were really close and I think he was jealous. He was drinking a lot and started being mentally and sometimes physically abusive towards me…”

bungo1 (1)VOKRA Update From Mr Bungo: “My name is Mr. Bungo and since the last time you read about me I’ve changed. I was extremely malnourished after living on the streets of East Vancouver by myself, covered in fleas, freezing cold and sitting in puddles. Thanks to VOKRA and my foster home, I’ve been able to get back on my feet. Little by little I gained weight and slowly regained my energy.”

I give to VOKRA, and frankly the story of Mr Bungo has more of an impact on me than knowing they save 1,835 cats every year. I can’t conceptualize 1,835 cats. I’ve never been in a room with 1,835 cats. But the story of one cat, warm and happy and having a cuddle? The sound of him purring? That I can wrap my mind – and heart – around. THAT makes me want to keep giving.

A great thank you letter should connect the donor directly with the people (or cats) that their donation has helped. And if you want you thank you letter to be memorable you need to get specific about what the donor is making possible with their gift.
Do you have a great example of a specific thank you message? Share it below.

Thank You Letter Quiz Results

Q: How is it addressed?

  • 96% Dear (their ACTUAL name, spelled correctly)
  • 4% – other (ie Dear Friend, Dear Donor, To Whom it May Concern)

Q: What word is used more: “we” or “you”?

  • 65% The word “you” is used MORE than the word “we”
  • 24% It’s about the same
  • 11% The word “we” is used more than the word “you”

Q: Do you mention specifically how the gift will be used?

  • 47% Yes. It speaks to what the gift was for. “We are grateful for your donation to our XYZ project.”
  • 32% It speaks to the broad work or organization does (our mission, vision, values etc) 15% Multiple projects and initiatives are mentioned.
  • 5% No.

Q: Do you give the donor a way to get in touch with you?

  • 71% Yes. It has the contact information of a real person (phone or e-mail)
  • 21% A generic contact method is listed (a website, a general organization phone number)
  • 8% No.

Q: Is the thank you honest and heart-felt?

  • 57% Yes! Right from my heart to the donor.
  • 37% It could be better…
  • 5% The thanks is very corporate and stiff
  • 1% No

Q: Who is the hero of the letter?

  • 78% The donor
  • 13% The beneficiaries of our charity
  • 5% The charity
  • 3% No one

Q: How is the letter ended?

  • 56% It’s pretty generic
  • 45% It signs off with something memorable, like, “Yours for a world without poverty,”

Q: Is it hand signed?

  • 84% Yes
  • 16% No

Your most awkward fundraising moment ever

Imagine this.

You’re in a meeting with a donor. So you’ve done the hardest part already: you got the meeting. This donor really wanted to meet with you and she actually invited you to her home!

You’re in her kitchen, drinking tea and getting to know each other. You find out what made her interested in your organization, you find out what she’s passionate about, you find out what inspires her philanthropy… Things are going so well!

And then it gets better. You ask her for a donation, and she says yes.

Not only that, she decides to give more than you ask her for.

This is a perfect donor meeting. You’re feeling great!

So you thank her, warmly and sincerely. You start talking about some of the details and tell her you’re happy to bring a cheque back to the office, or take down her credit card number and process the gift immediately after you get back.

But she wants to save you the time, paper, and processing fees, so she says:

“How about I just make the donation online while you’re here?”

Even better! So she pulls out her iPad and you direct her to your online giving site.

And that… that is when things go sour.

Your organization’s giving website looks horrible on her tablet. It’s not mobile friendly.

toiler_12There are so many fields and it takes her forever to fill them in.

The drop-down menu for different areas of support is so long and has so many designations, but it still doesn’t have the one she wants to support.

As this generous donor struggles through the overly complicated online giving form, you’re sitting next to her holding your breath. It’s taking so long, the process is clunky at best, and even though this donor is patient and gracious and says nothing about it, you’re cringing and feeling more awkward than you ever have before in a donor meeting.

She makes it to the end… barely. Her gift was made, but you can’t help but think it’s a miracle she got through all the obstacles your online giving process threw her way.

Is this a fable I’ve written to illustrate how important the online giving experience is?

No. It’s something I personally experienced. I went to that wonderful donor’s house, I had a meaningful conversation with her, I felt the pure joy of hearing her say “yes!” when I asked her to make a donation…

And then I felt the pain of sitting next to her through this awkward online giving experience.

If I hadn’t been there, what would’ve happened? If I were the generous donor, I would’ve been totally overwhelmed by the online giving page and think to myself, “I don’t have time for this; I’ll do it later.”

But I wouldn’t do it later. Or maybe at all.

Chances are, many of our donors or prospective donors are like me. And we are turning them off giving.

brace-yourselves-for-the-webforms-apocalypse-is-nighAn awesome and slick online giving page and process isn’t a nice-to-have anymore. It’s a must-have. And it’s not about just looking good; it’s about being donor-centric, and ensuring we put no obstacles in the way of their giving.

Don’t put yourself in my position and sit cringing behind your generous donor.

Show them #donorlove and invest in your online giving today!



The Joy of Giving

In 1960 a 10 year old boy started a school newspaper, helped by some friends. He and his friends sold it in the playground for a penny a copy. They sold 100, and went on to produce it monthly. Buoyed by their success, the boy organised a jumble sale in the local church hall which raised £80. He sent the money to OXFAM. Some days later he received a letter, personally signed by the director of OXFAM. The boy was bowled over. Completely gob-smacked, in fact. As a result he went on to organise more activities for OXFAM, and eventually made fundraising his life’s work. All because that one letter made him experience the joy of giving. The letter I received (yes, the boy was me), over half a century ago, is shown below.


Given recent events, one could be forgiven for thinking the following:
– Nobody really wants to give.
– People who give do so because they are fundraised at, victims of a fundraising machine, cajoled or coerced.
– Most wish they could press the re-set button.
– Fundraisers are professional beggars, or worse, con-men (and women) who prey on the vulnerable. Not members of a noble profession.
– In all the reviews and reports on fundraising, little mention is made of the beneficiaries. The reason why charities, and fundraisers, exist.
– No-one talks about the joy of giving. Yes, joy.

We need to get to the heart of the matter. At the moment, the whole focus is negative. It’s all about things not to do. Processes, tick boxes, protocols, sanctions, rather than a focus on the joy of giving, something that is inherently positive.

I believe that in all this discussion we must remember that donors should experience that joy of giving. I’d suggest they will too if we do our job right. And we must if the donors are here to stay.

Let me give you an example. In the NSPCC’s Full Stop Appeal, (the largest ever appeal in Britain at the time, from one of its top charities) we already had systems for recognising most donors. We had recognition levels for donors who gave £2,000 and £10,000. They would be made Life Councillors/Life Patrons of the Society. They would have the right to vote at our AGM. They would, in front of 700 people, be presented with a certificate and a beautifully produced NSPCC badge.

Our Full Stop appeal gift table predicated that we would find 136 donors who would give £100,000+. (In fact, there were more than 136. £100,000 was a very popular gift level.) We worked hard to create a really special recognition programme for them.

They were given a certificate, and a gold-rimmed green Full Stop badge.

But the most important element was that we invited all Patrons to an annual get-together. We would spend quality time finding a good venue, such as the Locarno Suite at the Foreign Office, in Whitehall, in London’s West End. Time would be given for mingling. Then everyone was ushered into a smaller room, theatre style, where new patrons were introduced, we read a brief citation of how they had given £100,000 or more, (completing a sponsored event, organising a corporate adoption) and given their certificate and badge in front of an audience of their peers.

We were worried that existing patrons would be bored. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Existing patrons loved to see others join their ‘club’. For that is what they became. A club of people, who had made a really significant gift, meeting each other once a year and enjoying each other’s company.

I have seen a billionaire in tears as we read out the citations. One patron, (new money), worked very closely with another patron (old money) to fundraise. They were a formidable team. New money gave old money a Full Stop Badge, surrounded by diamonds. Priceless. Old money wore it proudly. How much more committed can you get?

There was a donor who gave £1m. Afterwards she said she was motivated to go to work in the morning so she could earn more money, and then give more money, and make more of a difference to children’s lives.

The entire process of identification, cultivation, attendance at events, project visits, project worker meetings, and so forth all led to a point where the prospect wrote a cheque for more than they expected and thought: ‘WOW, I’ve done something extraordinary’

(c) SWNS

(c) SWNS

The Olive Cooke story has become synonymous with all that is wrong with UK fundraising. But as well as being inundated with direct mail she sold poppies. Look at the photo here left. What do you see? A very happy lady, obviously, despite the recent furore, proud of what she was doing? Nobody coerced her. She experienced the joy of giving.

You don’t leave a legacy to a charity because you have been made to feel guilty. You do so because you want to make a lasting difference to the world after you have died. To feel the deep life-changing satisfaction that can come from leaving among your legacies a major, transformational gift that you could never, ever have imagined making in your lifetime. As you sign the will, you experience the joy of giving.

This is all about making the donor experience good, better, great, life-enhancing, WOW.

Many months before Olive Cooke, Etherington, Rob Wilson, the Daily Mail, et al, Ken Burnett and I felt that something should be done. We worked to make the ideas in Ken’s book, Relationship Fundraising a reality. Despite being published some twenty-five years ago, read by almost every fundraiser, the ideas have rarely been effectively implemented. We wanted to give people an easy-to-read handbook of what should be done differently; a compendium of the ideas generated through a Commission of twelve, with hundreds of inputs from donors, fundraisers and others with influence. So that we all know what we have to do to help our donors to experience the joy of giving.

Thus the Commission on the Donor Experience was born. You can read more here.
I hope the report that will form the Commission’s output will be something transformational and widely read, written about and talked about. An output that is practical and helps fundraisers, as well as others within charities, including trustees and CEOs, to understand what needs to be done differently to put the donor experience at the centre of our work. And that it will provide an altogether different focus to the one we have seen recently.

The result could change the face of fundraising. And give us all a better name; something to be proud of. We intend to see that it does.

The data that re-defines ‘good’ fundraising

Do you know who your best new donors are? Do you know who your best fundraisers are?

My guess is, if you’re honest with yourself, your answer to the first question is no, but to the second it’s yes (am I right?)

This new data changes everything!

For the first time ever it’s possible to quickly identify who is going to leave before they do!

It is no exaggeration to say this data redefines what a quality fundraising experience looks like – and how you should define and measure a quality fundraiser.

The data you’re about to see is from feedback taken immediately after a donor has signed up with a street fundraiser (but don’t get hung up on channel; similar results are born out across all channels).

The first table shows first month cancellation listed using patented Commitment (also known as ‘relationship’) segments.  This unique methodology allows you to accurately categorize donors as being High Commitment, Potential High Commitment, Vulnerable or Transactional.

Table 1

As you can see there is a perfect correlation with all the cancellations coming from the “Transactional” category.

This indicator is causal, not coincidental. It gives you a clear picture of what you can, and should do, either to save donors sooner or stop wasting money trying to get them back (also known as endlessly and expensively harassing people who were never that interested and are increasingly less so).

The related, and perhaps even bigger, opportunity to redefine, and refine, face to face (and of course all channels), is highlighted by the 2nd bar chart.

This time each column represents individual fundraisers.  This is filtered to only show the ‘good’ fundraisers by traditional, transactional metrics; number of sign ups per day.  All these fundraisers are ‘good’ by that definition.

But this chart breaks out, by fundraiser, the patented Commitment level of the people they are recruiting.  One-hundred percent of Fundraiser #8’s recruits are Low Commitment; half are Transactional, half Vulnerable.  Compare this with Fundraiser #113 (the 5th column from left to right) who recruits 0% Low Commitment donors.

Table 2

There’s another piece of information, not shown on this chart, which would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. Fundraiser #8 has the most sign-ups per day making him the best if we view him by traditional, but clearly very faulty metrics!

Of course there is a lot more nuance, value and process involved in all this. This wasn’t found using the kind of simplistic satisfaction survey our sectors slowly starting to look into long after the commercial world’s ditched them as ineffective.

Nor is it the result of some patronizing creative effort to ‘inspire’ or ‘engage’ people about whom we know nothing other than the amount they gave and the demographic bucket we’ve dumped them in. By this frankly dumb process the people who leave look identical to the people who stay. The only defining difference being one’s still here and one isn’t – leaving us no clue as to why in either case.

There is a science to knowing what, where and when to ask for feedback and what to do about it.

One glance at these groundbreaking numbers shows how much we don’t know about the people who sign up and the people signing them up. Using this data, we can re-define good fundraising and really do some good.